Prime minister’s shield dropped

Court nixes law protecting Berlusconi from prosecution

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may soon find himself back in court on corruption and fraud charges linked to his Mediaset TV empire after Italy’s highest court partially struck down a law shielding him from prosecution while in office.

Italy’s 15-member Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled out key parts of a law passed last March that froze trials for up to 18 months for top government officials who claimed they could not attend due to “legitimate impediment,” meaning conflicts with official commitments.

This law was the third attempt by Berlusconi’s conservative coalition to shield the media mogul-turned-pol from prosecution during his three stints as prime minister.

Berlusconi currently faces two trials in Milan that had been suspended.

One involves Mediaset’s acquisitions of movie rights from Hollywood studios between 2000 and 2005. Prosecutors allege Mediaset paid inflated prices via offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes and create a slush fund.

In the second trial, Berlusconi is accused of bribing British lawyer David Mills to lie in court in association with the movie rights case.

Berlusconi, who denies the charges and claims prosecutors are out to destroy him politically, said before the ruling that he was “indifferent” to its outcome and that it would not threaten the stability of his government, which has been weakened by sex scandals.

The Constitutional Court decision now leaves it up to judges to decide whether to accept Berlusconi’s claims of “legitimate impediment.”

Shares in Mediaset remained stable Thursday at €4.50 ($6) on news of the expected verdict after dropping 1.15% on Wednesday when analysts at Italy’s Intermonte noted that “the shares are being penalized by the political context.”

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