Fininvest’s offshore shell game

Berlusconi co. hid deals in secret accounts

MILAN — A confidential report by international auditing group KPMG has revealed that Silvio Berlusconi’s media and finance private holding company Fininvest created and used 64 offshore companies between 1989 and 1996 to operate “important strategic and economic deals” without showing a link to Fininvest.

This hidden web of companies controlled stakes in Spain’s TV group Telecinco and Italy’s pay TV arm Telepiu.

The 800-page document, commissioned by a Milan court at the end of 1996, took 2-1/2 years to prepare. Part of it was published Saturday in daily paper La Repubblica.

Primed for office

Media magnate Berlusconi is hotly tipped to become prime minister — his right-wing coalition is expected to win the May 13 elections.

According to the report, the illegal “offshore galaxy,” partly based in Switzerland and Luxembourg, moved over 3.5 trillion lire ($1.6 billion) in seven years and hid about 25% of this money in offshore accounts.

The KPMG investigation stops in 1996 but, according to La Repubblica, Berlusconi and his fully owned company Fininvest then moved the offshore activities to Nassau in the Bahamas.

The Milan Court asked KPMG to prepare the report as part of the investigation during the so-called All Iberian trial, named after one of the 64 offshore companies.

In the first part of that trial, Berlusconi was convicted and sentenced to two years and five months in prison in 1998 for illegal party financing. He was acquitted on appeal. The second part of the trial, in which Fininvest is charged with false accounting, is due to start on May 7.

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