Italian exec accused of fraudulent tax scheme

ROME — Italian prosecutors brought new charges that would include Silvio Berlusconi in the ongoing Milan trial probing multimillion-dollar Hollywood movie rights purchased by his Mediaset TV empire.

A Milan prosecutor on Monday filed a charge of false accounting against Berlusconi, whose other counts in the trial are due to expire on Oct. 20 under the statute of limitations.

The long-simmering case centers around an alleged scheme to falsify the acquisition cost of TV rights to a large volume of U.S. movies purchased from Hollywood studios, including Paramount, via offshore companies in order to pay less taxes and create a slush fund.

Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalonieri and L.A.-based film and TV producer Frank Agrama were among those named in charges filed Monday by prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale that pertain to fiscal year 2000.

All parties have denied wrongdoing.

Agrama, whose company, Harmony Gold, produced the 1980s miniseries “Shaka Zulu” and “Queen Kong,” acted as middle man in the deals. He was first fingered by Italian authorities for alleged misdeeds in 2005. As an American citizen Agrama cannot be tried in Italy.

Berlusconi’s lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, contended Monday that the false-accounting charge refers to a period — the year 2000 — during which his client “wasn’t involved in the company — he was in politics.”

“The balance sheets of our company are always drafted in rigorous observance of transparency and the law,” Mediaset said in a statement.

Berlusconi, who went into politics in 1994, has served twice as Italy’s prime minister, most recently between 2001-06. He currently leads the conservative opposition.

Berlusconi has faced eight trials over the years and has always either been acquitted or seen cases against him dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

The Milan court will decide whether to include this new charge when trial resumes on Nov. 19.

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