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Italy's Berlusconi appears in court over fraud allegations

Removal of immunity from trial has exposed the Italian premier to court battles over alleged corruption and underaged sex.

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a legal hearing over allegations of fiscal fraud and breach of trust in his business interests on March 28, 2011 at Milan's court. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy’s scandal-hit Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made a rare appearance at a court hearing on Monday over alleged fraud during the acquisition of broadcasting rights.

Berlusconi’s court attendance – his first in eight years – came after Italy’s constitutional court lifted his immunity, exposing him to three corruption cases and a trial in which he is accused of having sex with an underage prostitute, Reuters said.

Ahead of the appearance in judge’s chambers in Milan, the 74-year-old denied claims of tax fraud and embezzlement over his Mediaset broadcasting empire’s acquisition of television rights for inflated prices, Dow Jones said. He has also denied all other claims against him.

"All accusations against me are ridiculous and groundless," Berlusconi said during the television show MattinoCinque, aired by one of Mediaset’s. "I've never dealt with the acquisition of TV rights.”

The cases against Berlusconi had been frozen until January’s constitutional court ruling due to a legal loophole that allowed him to claim he was too busy with official duties to stand trial.

Asked in another pre-trial interview if he would attend other hearings, the Telegraph reported that Berlusconi said: "I will go to those at which I can present myself, aiming to not suspend the trials because all the trials are absolutely absurd and built on nothing."

Another trial in which the Italian prime minister is accused of bribery resumed in Milan last week, but Berlusconi, who was due to brief the cabinet on the Libya emergency, did not appear, the London Telegraph said.

The BBC said Berlusconi's position in government was unlikely to be affected by the legal proceedings against him.

"Although the cumulative effect of these sex and corruption scandals have taken their toll on his popularity, there is no immediate threat to his position as prime minister," it said.

-- Barry Neild

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/italy/110328/italy-berlusconi-sex-teenage-prostitute-fraud-trial