Court rejects request to postpone tax fraud trial

ROME — The clash between Silvio Berlusconi and prosecutors seeking to try the Italo prime minister and media mogul on tax fraud charges revved up Monday.

A Milan court ruled that Berlusconi’s lawyers could not postpone the trial, pertaining to finances at his Mediaset TV empire, any longer and gave the go-ahead for the hearing to resume after months of holdups.

Lawyers had argued that Berlusconi was unable to attend the trial due to a scheduling conflict with a Cabinet meeting.

But the court rejected the request, the first time Berlusconi has not been allowed to use his political role to delay facing the law.

This trial involves Mediaset’s acquisitions of Hollywood movie rights from studios including Fox and Paramount between 2000 and 2005. Prosecutors allege Mediaset paid inflated prices via offshore accounts to avoid paying tax and create a slush fund.

Berlusconi and Mediaset officials claim no wrongdoing was committed. He, who is a conservative, has repeatedly lashed out against the judges, claiming they are out to get him for political reasons.

On Monday, lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said he would appeal directly to Italy’s Constitutional Court to defend Berlusconi’s right to have the trial delayed due to “a legitimate impediment” posed by his duties as the country’s leader.Last year the Constitutional Court threw out an immunity law that Berlusconi had pushed through parliament to shield himself from prosecution soon after his 2008 election.

Meanwhile, over the weekend a separate Berlusconi trial was ordered to begin March 26 after the court rejected his lawyers’ request to suspend it indefinitely.

In that case Berlusconi is accused of bribing his British lawyer David Mills to lie under oath about details of the Mediaset offshore companies he allegedly helped to set up.

Italy’s highest court last week ruled that the statute of limitations had expired for Mills, even though the judges said the crime had been committed. Berlusconi’s lawyers were hoping to extend the statute of limitations ruling to him.

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