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Paolo Berlusconi investigated

Paolo Berlusconi, younger brother of Italian media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, has been called before the Milanese judges who are investigating illegal contributions to political parties in exchange for favors. The 42-year-old businessman and owner of the daily paper Il Giornale is accused of making an undeclared (and thus illegal) contribution of 150 million lire (over $ 100,000) to the Christian Democrat party.

Also accused is Finivest exec Sergio Roncucci.

The news was made public by the public prosecutor on Friday. Although the legal repercussions are light, it represents a serious embarrassment to the Fininvest Group. Until now, Fininvest insisted its only political “contributions” have been its openly discount TV ad rates for candidates during political campaigns.

Paolo Berlusconi is one of 35 businessmen and politicos involved in a multimillion-dollar scandal covering seven new garbage dumps. Shortly after donating the money, he received permission from the Region of Lombardy to build and run a landfill near Varese, Italy. Not all the accused are being charged with bribery and corrupting public officials, however. Berlusconi and Roncucci are up on a lesser charge–violating the law on financing political parties.

Berlusconi did not deny anteing up the $ 100,000. He defended himself by saying it was his own money, not Finivest’s, and therefore a legitimate contribution. The most he risks is a stiff fine for not declaring it to the proper authorities.

The first hearing, set for March 29, is to decide if there’s enough evidence to put Berlusconi, Roncucci and the others on trial.

It’s unclear what consequences the so-called “Clean Hands” investigation could have on the Fininvest empire. The group has long been tied to Bettino Craxi’s Socialist party–which defended Fininvest interests in Italy’s first private broadcasting web. Now that Craxi is under investigation for allegedly accepting kickbacks, Italians have a lively interest in seeing whether the Socialists’ close rapport with Fininvest will also fall under the judges’ scrutiny.

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