Berlusconi fraud case dealt a blow

Mishandled evidence to be returned to U.S.

ROME — Italian prosecutors in the ongoing fraud case of Silvio Berlusconi were dealt a serious blow after a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that evidence seized in a recent raid of co-defendant Frank Agrama’s Hollywood home and offices cannot be used in the trial.

U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson made the extraordinary order Wednesday in Los Angeles, saying the evidence seized in November from Agrama’s Bel-Air home and Sunset Boulevard offices was mishandled and must be returned to the U.S.

Berlusconi, Agrama, British attorney David Mills and nine others are accused in Italy of a tax evasion scheme involving TV rights deals for Hollywood movies.

Hollywood TV producer Agrama, whose best-known TV title was the “Shaka Zulu” series, acted as a middleman in several Mediaset transactions with Paramount in the 1980s and ’90s.

Agrama’s attorney, Alejandro Mayorkas, told the Los Angeles Times he believes Italian prosecutors initiated the raid “to seize and review our client’s trial preparation and other privileged materials because the trial was about to start.”

Italian prosecutors deny the allegation, but conceded the federal judge’s decision Wednesday could result in “very serious damage for the investigation.”

Berlusconi has stood trial eight times over the years on various fraud charges and has never been convicted. The case is due to resume in March.

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