Silvio Berlusconi
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Deal with Fox Sports boosts Mediaset beyond legal woes

ROME – Shares in Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset rose more than 3% Tuesday, signalling markets don’t expect major repercussions on the TV company as Italy’s supreme court begins ruling on the final appeal in a highly sensitive tax fraud case involving multimillion-dollar Hollywood deals.

TV crews from around the world are gathered in front of Rome’s gigantic Palace of Justice for a verdict which could mark Berlusconi’s first final conviction in Italy’s lengthy legal system.

Speculation is swirling that a political crisis could ensue if the media-mogul-turned-pol is found guilty. And also that a conviction would mark the end of Berlusconi’s political career.

Berlusconi’s lawyer Franco Coppi told reporters outside the courtroom that the verdict is expected Wednesday or possibly Thursday.

Meanwhile Mediaset shares closed up 3,27 on the Milan bourse Tuesday, driven largely by the fact that on Monday Mediaset’s paybox Mediaset Premium inked a key deal to carry Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports channel which includes live British, French, and Spanish top league soccer, providing a big boost to the paybox’s football offerings. The wider implication of this deal is that Mediaset and Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox have reached a truce, after being at each other’s throats for years. They are united by a common effort to counter the arrival in Italy of Al Jazeera which is ramping up its global sports side.

Some analysts, including those at Italy’s Unicredit, also factor in the possibility of a further delay in reaching a final verdict in the Mediaset case which would provide a reprieve.

The case pertains to TV rights to some 3,000 movies from studios, including Paramount and Fox, purchased at inflated prices through offshore companies between 1995 and 1998 to allegedly evade taxes and create a slush fund.

Berlusconi has already been convicted twice to four years in jail and also to a five year ban from politics in this case which has been dragging on for seven years before now reaching what may be the final ruling Italy’s three-tier appeals system.

If Berlusconi, who is 76, is convicted, he is not likely to go to jail because of his age. But he could serve a year under house arrest. Alternately, the supreme court may also aquit him entirely, which is considered unlikely, or send the case back to the appeals court for another trial. In this case the statute of limitations could kick in and cause the entire case to be scrapped.

Berlusconi, who has always maintained his innocence, is not expected to be in court on his judgement day.

He is instead reportedly awaiting the verdict in his Rome residence with his daughter Marina, who is chairman of his Fininvest company, and son Pier Silvio, who is Mediaset Vice-Chairman.

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