Berlusconi probed for tax evasion

2010-10-15 14:30

ROME October 15

Italian prosecutors have launched an investigation against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for tax evasion linked to his Mediaset media empire, Italian news agencies reported on Friday.

The allegations are linked to tax declarations for 2003 and 2004 and are part of a wider inquiry into Mediaset, the reports by the Italian agencies ANSA and AGI said.

Berlusconi's son Piersilvio, deputy chairman of Mediaset, and other senior managers have also been placed under investigation, they added.

Mediaset was founded by Berlusconi in the 1970s and includes Italy's three main privately-owned national television channels.

The accusation is that Mediaset artificially inflated the price of film distribution rights sold to companies that belonged to him and then sold back to Mediaset, allowing the company to reduce its revenues and pay less tax.

The charge is punishable by between 18 months and six years in prison.

The Mediaset trial has been put on hold awaiting a ruling by Italy's Constitutional Court expected in December on a law that grants Berlusconi and his ministers temporary legal immunity for a maximum of 18 months.

Berlusconi's battles with the law have marked his public life since he burst onto the political scene in the mid-1990s.

A self-made billionaire, Berlusconi has faced charges including corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties.

Although some initial judgments have gone against him he has never been definitively convicted.