Mediaset profit in doubt

Court acquits Berlusconi

MILAN — Mediaset, the Italo broadcasting powerhouse controlled by billionaire premier Silvio Berlusconi, will see profits dip to 364 million euros ($330 million) this year, compared to $384 million in 2000, a report by Italy-based financial analysis company Eptasim disclosed Monday.

According to the report, the current downturn in advertising revenues will hit Berlusconi’s TV empire even more in 2002, when net profit will decrease to $314 million or just above the 1999 profits. Profits are expected to start growing again in 2003, the report said.

Mediaset revenues are expected to grow this year by about 2%, after the group posted a record 15.4% increase last year to $2.15 billion. According to most financial analysts, however, Mediaset remains a healthy company.

Berlusconi, who has been dogged by charges of conflict of interest between his political role and his personal holdings, was cleared Friday of bribery charges by Italy’s highest appeals court. But the media tycoon’s Fininvest group and several of its execs were found guilty.

Verdict, which cannot be appealed, closed the book on one of several cases still pending against the billionaire premier, but left a major weight on Fininvest, whose holdings include Mediaset and Italy’s leading film company, Medusa.

The court affirmed a guilty verdict against Salvatore Sciascia, the former Fininvest exec responsible for tax services, for bribing tax inspectors in 1994 in return for lenient audits. Massimo Berrutti, Berlusconi’s personal attorney and a current member of the parliament, was also confirmed guilty of abetting bribery.

The court said that Berlusconi’s direct involvement could not be proved.

The verdicts add fuel to the ongoing fray in Parliament and Italy’s media over Berlusconi’s alleged conflicts of interest. His opponents said the not-guilty verdit was politically influenced by the government. His supporters said the allegations point up that a “Stalinist plot” against the tycoon is still in place.

Berlusconi was acquitted last year on a different charge of false accounting in a case involving the purchase of a film business, but additional cases are still pending.

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