Pic rights probe focuses on Berlusconis

Inquiry focuses on Mediaset acquisition

MILAN — Piersilvio and Marina Berlusconi, the eldest children of Italy’s media tycoon-turned-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, are reportedly being investigated for alleged money laundering, as part of a probe of the sale of movie rights.

Inquiry, which started in 2001, focuses on the acquisition by Mediaset, the Berlusconi family’s broadcast group, of TV rights for U.S. films in 1994 and 1995 through two offshore companies. According to Milan magistrates, the purchases were inflated by about $170 million.

Silvio Berlusconi and other Mediaset execs are already under investigation in the matter. The latest news was reported by Italian news agencies, which quoted Milan court sources on Wednesday.

Piersilvio Berlusconi, 35, is deputy chairman of Mediaset and plays a key role in programming the group’s three channels and in the acquisition of sports rights.

Marina, 37, is deputy chairman of Fininvest, the family holding company that controls the TV group, as well as Italy’s top film company Medusa and publishing house Mondadori.

On Wednesday both Mediaset and Fininvest called the accusations “unbelievable” and “surprising.”

One of the Berlusconi family lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini, said the allegations against Silvio, Marina and Piersilvio Berlusconi were “groundless” and the accusations against the two children were even more “absurd,” considering that both were still attending college and held no responsibility in the family group in the mid-’90s.

The new development comes at a bad time for the prime minister. Just a few hours earlier, U.S. rating agency Standard & Poor’s dealt him a body blow by downgrading Italy’s credit rating — the first time a euro zone country has been downgraded.

Move further inflamed a political crisis raging within Berlusconi’s center-right coalition that led last week to the forced resignation of minister of finance Giulio Tremonti.

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