Italo premier-media mogul attends tax fraud trial

Italo Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attended his first open court hearing in eight years Monday, charged with tax fraud connected to multimillion-dollar Hollywood deals inked by his Mediaset TV empire.

Berlusconi, flanked by bodyguards and lawyers, entered Milan’s courthouse and told throngs of journos the charges against him are “laughable, unfounded and demented.”

Ten other defendants — including Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalonieri, VP Piersilvio Berlusconi and U.S. producer-entrepreneur Frank Agrama — face the same charges and deny wrongdoing.

The trial stems from a reported €470 million ($678 million) in movie rights purchased through offshore companies during the 1990s from Hollywood studios, including Paramount and Fox, to allegedly evade taxes and create a slush fund.

The hearing began with prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale asking witness Paola Massia, a former collaborator of Agrama’s Harmony Gold, if she could confirm that Berlusconi and Agrama knew each other personally; which Massia did, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

Agrama’s lawyer, Roberto Pisano, subsequently asked Massia if she believed Agrama was Berlusconi’s “secret partner” in obscure dealings to which she answered no.

Berlusconi, who did not address the court during the2½-half hour hearing, talked to reporters when he stepped outside amid a claque of supporters with blue balloons saying “Silvio, resist!” while critics shouted “Buffoon!”

“There is no proof, no documents, no testimony, no money trail that supports the prosecutors’ thesis,” he said.

Berlusconi is mounting an offensive against the judiciary after his parliamentary immunity from prosecution was struck down in January,

The pol’s court appearance contrasted with last week when he skipped the start of a closed-door preliminary hearing, known as Rubygate, in which he is accused of paying an underage teenager for sex and using his influence to cover it up.On Monday Berlusconi called those charges groundless, while candidly telling journos he had given then 17-year-old Moroccan pole dancer Karima El Mahroug, known as Ruby, $65,000 to buy laser depilation equipment, claiming this was to help Ruby “avoid prostitution” by setting up a beauty parlor with a friend.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more