Court acquits politico in accounting probe

MILAN — Critics of Italian media tycoon-turned-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are fuming after a Milan court was forced to acquit him of involvement in a e1 billion ($1.2 billion) false accounting case Monday.

They claim the government shortened the statute of limitations on false accounting to help him escape a series of fraud probes.

Berlusconi was alleged to have transferred funds through his family holding company Fininvest to off-shore company All Iberian between 1991 and 1995 to be used in illegal party financing and without showing a link to Fininvest, Italy’s largest media conglom.

It was the second time prosecuting magistrates had tried to convict Berlusconi for the alleged accounting fraud.

An Italian court in July 1998 sentenced Berlusconi to two years and four months in jail for his part in the All Iberian case but the sentence was dropped in 2000 after Italy’s high court ruled a statute of limitations applied.

Three former Fininvest execs, including former CEO Ubaldo Livolsi, also were acquitted Monday.

It’s good news for the prime minister, who is facing a decline in popularity in Italy and deep divisions in his government alliance as 2006 elections near.

“Italians must be aware that this acquittal comes as a direct result of the law, which was blatantly tailor-made for Berlusconi and his men,” former Milan corruption prosecutor and now opposition politician Antonio Di Pietro said.

He called it “a scandal” that Gaetano Pecorella, Berlusconi’s trial lawyer, is a member of the Parliament in Berlusconi’s party and heads the Justice Committee that changed the law.

Berlusconi will be back in court Oct. 28, when a new trial probes the trade of TV rights by Berlusconi’s TV group Mediaset.

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