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Spain seeks Italo release for Berlusconi probe

Newspaper: Tax fraud alleged at Telecinco

MADRID — Italian media magnate and prime minister wannabe Silvio Berlusconi is fighting another media onslaught — this time from Spain.

Newspaper El Mundo revealed that Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish anti-corruption magistrate, has formally petitioned Italy to lift Berlusconi’s parliamentary immunity in order to investigate alleged tax fraud at Berlusconi-controlled Spanish broadcaster Telecinco.

Paper also printed contracts allegedly showing that Berlusconi’s Fininvest used tax-haven companies to siphon off funds from Telecinco.

Despite the latest criticism, Berlusconi remained the front-runner for prime minister in polls leading up to May 13’s general elections. Analysts suggest Italians are bored by seven years of media exposes on Berlusconi’s allegedly evasive dealings or they believe his defense that he is the victim of a left-wing conspiracy fanned by business rivals.

On Tuesday, the Berlusconi-controlled newspaper Il Giornale attributed the latest attacks to a plot by U.K. media group Pearson, which has a stake in El Mundo, to force Berlusconi to put his Mediaset on the market.

El Mundo alleges that in the early ’90s, Telecinco made payments to four Berlusconi front companies in the Netherlands and Hungary that undermined its financial position and forced it to cut staff. Telecinco also was forced to overpay Fininvest for TV product and U.S. films to bolster the company’s flagging finances.

Fininvest said in a statement that El Mundo’s allegations are “unfounded and defamatory” and “lacking in logic and common sense.”