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Berlusconi asks sex, Mediaset trials moved to Brescia

Milan magistrates 'hostile', lawyers claim

15 March, 17:34
Berlusconi asks sex, Mediaset trials moved to Brescia (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Milan, March 15 - Silvio Berlusconi's defence lawyers on Friday asked for the ex-premier's two Milan trials to be moved to the nearby city of Brescia on the grounds of alleged bias by magistrates he says are persecuting him.

The lawyers accused the Milan judges and prosecutors of being "hostile" to Berlusconi, as allegedly shown by their recent orders for medical checks that an eye problem which sent the ex-premier to hospital made him genuinely unable to attend hearings.

When a claim of so-called 'legitimate suspicion' of bias is upheld, a trial is moved to the nearest major city. If Italy's highest appeals court, the Court of Cassation, admits the petition, the trial verdicts will be pushed back.

Berlusconi is on trial for alleged sex with an underage prostitute called Ruby and appealing a four-year conviction for tax fraud on film rights involving his Mediaset media group.

The three-time premier's People of Freedom (PdL) party staged a controversial demonstration inside the Milan courthouse on Monday and are planning another one to support claims the alleged campaign of persecution has been stepped up after Italy's recent general election.

The demo came after the second medical-check order for the centre-left leader, who is being treated at Milan's San Raffaele hospital for the condition reportedly caused by someone poking him in the eye, as well as resultant high blood pressure. A poll Friday said a third of Italians agree with the media tycoon's claim that allegedly left-wing magistrates have been trying to hound him out of politics since he became premier in 1994. Berlusconi has insisted he will not meet the same fate as his one-time sponsor and personal friend, late premier Bettino Craxi, who was driven from power by anti-corruption probes and died in self-imposed exile in Tunisia in 2000.

The centre-right leader, whose burgeoning TV empire was shielded by Craxi in the 1980s, has accused Milanese magistrates of trying to bring him down as they did his controversial predecessor.

The Socialist prime minister of Italy from 1983 to 1987, Craxi was at the centre of the 1992-1994 Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) anti-corruption investigations carried out by Milan prosecutors. Fingered as the main culprit as Italy's political establishment crumbled, he fled to Tunisia to avoid prison in 1994 and died at his Tunisian villa in January 2000.

Berlusconi has for years been claiming a group of prosecutors and judges is trying to drive him out of politics, but Wednesday's statement was his strongest direct comparison to his old friend and godfather of his second daughter Barbara, now an AC Milan director.

''Rumors are rife that people are expressly and shamelessly talking about an operation Craxi 2'', Berlusconi told Panorama magazine, part of his media empire, which includes Italy's three largest commercial TV stations and its biggest publishing group, Mondadori.

''They couldn't eliminate me by democratic means, that is through elections, so now they're trying to use the justice system for political ends. They know I am the real obstacle on the Left's path".

Berlusconi's defiant statement came as the main centre-left group, the Democratic Party (PD), for the first time said they would vote to approve Berlusconi's arrest if a request with convincing evidence came in from prosecutors.

PD National Coordinator Maurizio Migliavacca told Sky Tg24 that his party would vote to arrest Berlusconi in any of the court cases currently open against him, if the prosecution showed the case against him was strong enough.

As well as the Ruby and Mediaset trials, Berlusconi is under investigation on suspicion of bribing former Senator Sergio De Gregorio to switch parties in 2006, a move which destabilized the centre-left government and hastened its collapse in 2008.

In another case, a Milan judge on March 7 sentenced him to a one-year jail term for involvement in the publication by his family newspaper Il Giornale of an illegally obtained wiretap concerning Italian insurance company Unipol's almost-successful bid to buy Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in 2005.

The wiretap severely embarrassed then centre-left leader Piero Fassino.

Monday's PdL demo was stigmatised on Tuesday as "unprecedented" by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Napolitano called for calm on both sides, but tensions have continued to simmer.

A verdict in the sensational Ruby trial is expected later this month, unless the trial is moved, upping pressure on the ex-premier in the aftermath of last month's inconclusive general election.

Parliament convened Friday but parties could not agree on Speakers amid continuing deadlock.

Berlusconi's alliance came narrowly second to the centre left but it has been blackballed by both centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who faces the tough task of forming a government, and anti-establishment comedian and activist Beppe Grillo, whose 5-Star Movement rode a huge shock protest vote to become the biggest single party in the House and hold the balance of power in the Senate.

No party has a majority in the upper house and pundits have widely predicted Democratic Party (PD) leader Bersani's efforts to woo Grillo supporters to attain a confidence vote will fail.

One scenario sees another election this summer and the possible replacement of Bersani as PD leader by the much younger, more media-savvy and centrist mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, who polls say has a wider appeal.

Grillo has urged Berlusconi to imitate Craxi, saying this would be better for the health of Italy and the ex-premier.

"Berlusconi is scared of ending up like Craxi, but in reality it would be lucky for him," Grillo said on his blog.

"He could escape to Tunisian beaches full of Rubies without having the daily ball-breaking of the magistrates.

"He should let himself get arrested as soon as possible without any extenuating circumstances and take flight before the arrest.

"He will gain in health terms. He will heal from his uveitis (an irritation and swelling of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye) and the Italians will finally heal from the orchitis that he has inflicted on them for 20 years".

Orchitis is an inflammation of the testicles.

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