Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi has claimed he is 'humiliated' by Italian courts

Silvio Berlusconi has claimed he is being "humiliated" by the Italian justice system as he turned up in court for a hearing in one of the four criminal cases he is embroiled in.

The prime minister was speaking as he entered Milan's imposing Palace of Justice for a corruption case in which one of his companies is accused of fraud and tax evasion in the purchase of television rights in the US.

The allegations concern a company called Mediatrade, which is part of the billionaire businessman's Mediaset television empire.

Upon his arrival, he launched a fresh attack on magistrates whom he accuses of pursuing a politically-motivated vendetta against him.

"There is something which is not going in the right direction for a democracy to have government leaders humiliated by having to spend hours in court while these important international events are taking place," he told reporters.

He again dismissed the charges against him as "pure invention".

A judge is expected to decide later this month whether to send Mr Berlusconi to trial for allegedly overpaying for TV rights and, with other defendants, pocketing the difference.

Prosecutors claim that the prime minister and his associates were able to skim off millions of pounds which then went into secret political slush funds.

The appearance came a day after he welcomed heads of state, dignitaries and members of five royal families, including the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, for the beatification of the late pope John Paul II in a three-hour ceremony at the Vatican.

Mr Berlusconi, 74, who is nearly three years into his five year term as prime minister, is enmeshed in legal problems, with the most sensational of the four cases he faces revolving around allegations that he paid for sex with an under age prostitute, an exotic dancer known as Ruby the Heart Stealer.

Together with an abuse of office charge, it could land him in jail for more than a decade if he is found guilty.

The Mediatrade case also involves allegations of wrongdoing against his son, Pier Silvio, who holds a senior management position in his father's business empire.

The prime minister's lawyers also said he would appear in the dock on May 9, in another trial in which he is accused of paying a $600,000 bribe to his British former tax lawyer, David Mills, in return for providing false testimony in court.

Mr Berlusconi has told the Italian judiciary that he will try to turn up to court hearings, but only on Mondays, on the grounds that he has government business to attend to the rest of the week.

(Published by The Telegraph - May 2, 2011)

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