Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi went on trial last week for alleged fraud at his private TV network company Mediaset. The trial, which legal experts said could last years, opened with a procedural hearing and was then adjourned until the following week. Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul, was not present. A total of 14 defendants are standing trial, including Mediaset Chairman Fedele Confalonieri; British corporate lawyer David Mills, the estranged husband of Britain’s Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell; and several top former officials at Berlusconi’s Fininvest family holding company. The defendants face charges ranging from tax fraud and false accounting to embezzle-ment and money laundering. For centre-right opposition chief Berlusconi, the most serious charge is tax fraud, which carries a sentence of up to six years. The defendants all deny wrongdoing
The case centres on Mediaset’s purchase of TV rights for US films before 1999 through two offshore firms. Prosecutors believe that, in deals covering the period 1994-99, the purchase costs of US films were artificially inflated for tax evasion purposes. They also say a slush fund was created for Berlusconi and his family. Mills allegedly set up two off-shore companies for Berlusconi in the early 1990s.