I'm most hounded man ever, says Silvio
Silvio Berlusconi claimed to be "the most accused man in history and the universe" yesterday as he appeared in court for the first time in eight years to face one of four trials in which he is embroiled.
The Italian prime minister smiled and waved to supporters as he arrived at the courthouse in Milan, his home city. A handful of people booed and called for his resignation and he was guarded by about 100 riot police.
The hearing was part of a trial in which he, his eldest son and 10 others were accused of tax fraud and embezzlement over the acquisition of television rights for inflated prices by an arm of his business empire, a company called Mediatrade. Prior to his appearance, Mr Berlusconi dismissed the accusations as "not only groundless but also ridiculous".
"Unfortunately communism in Italy never surrendered and never changed," he said. "I am the most accused man in the universe and in history."
The 74-year-old premier has repeatedly accused the Italian courts of being run by "communist" judges and magistrates who, he maintains, are out to topple him by any means.
Despite being involved in dozens of criminal cases over his 17-year political career, Mr Berlusconi rarely showed up in person in court. He did not address the court during the two-hour hearing but he did greet supporters.
The most serious of the four trials starts on April 6, also in Milan. He is accused of abuse of office and of paying for the sexual services of an allegedly under-age prostitute, a Moroccan-born erotic dancer who goes by the name of Ruby the Heart Stealer. His lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said it had not yet been decided whether the prime minister, who denied the allegations, would turn up for the start of the prostitution trial.
Prosecutors in the so-called Mediatrade case allege fraud in the sale of film rights by his Mediaset company in a case identical to an ongoing trial, but with allegations relating to a more recent period.
The preliminary hearing will decide whether to charge the embattled premier, in what would be his fourth active trial. A decision is not expected before the end of May.
His lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, repeated yesterday that the premier will attend hearings as his schedule allows. Three more dates have been set for the preliminary hearing judge to hear evidence.
"The prosecutors have shown that they want to persecute me and they don't stop even in the face of facts and of ridiculousness," Mr Berlusconi said as he called in to a TV show on one of Mediaset's channels.
Mr Berlusconi said that the prosecutors see him as an "ideological and political enemy" and as "the obstacle preventing the left from gaining power." (© Daily Telegraph, London)