Italian prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi made a rare court appearance on Monday attending a fraud trial centered around multimillion-dollar Hollywood movie rights purchased by his Mediaset TV empire.
Berlusconi, whose immunity from prosecution was lifted by Italy’s Constitutional Court this year, arrived in a black sedan, amid cheers and jeers, at the Milan tribunal for a closed-doors preliminary hearing, under tight security with journos barred.
It had been eight years since Berlusconi, long dogged by legal woes, showed up in court.
Earlier in the day, Berlusconi dismissed the accusations as “ridiculous and groundless” in a feisty phone interview with “MattinoCinque,” a news show aired by Mediaset’s flagship Canale 5 channel.
The long-simmering case centers around an alleged scheme to inflate the price of TV rights to a large volume of U.S. movies bought by Mediaset’s Mediatrade unit from Hollywood studios, including Paramount and Fox, via offshore companies, evading tax and creating a slush fund.
American producer Frank Agrama, who is the alleged intermediary of those deals, inked between the late 1990s and 2005, has also repeatedly maintained his innocence.
“I knew Agrama in the 1980s and then never saw him again,” Berlusconi told “MattinoCinque.” “At Mediaset I never dealt with TV rights.”
The TV tycoon said he left active Mediaset management in 1994, the year he went into politics. Berlusconi has been involved in 25 trials since becoming a pol, and has either been acquitted or let off because the statute of limitations expired.
The Mediatrade trial has been adjourned to April 4.
A separate trial in which Berlusconi is accused of having sex with an underage prostitute is scheduled to open April 6.