> ANSA English > News

Berlusconi says 'US papers' will prove innocence

'Had no part' in tax-dodge scheme that spells Senate ejection

26 November, 13:20
Berlusconi says 'US papers' will prove innocence (ANSA) - Rome, November 26 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday said an affidavit from the former CEO of his US business associate Frank Agrama's film group would prove his innocence of tax fraud and hopefully allow him to retain his Senate seat.

The three-time premier and media mogul said the affidavit from Dominique O'Reilly-Appleby cleared him of benefitting from an offshore tax-dodge scheme on inflated film rights traded by his Mediaset media group that he claims was set up by Agrama without his knowledge.

"There is testimony in the US papers from a top manager in the Agrama group that proves I had no part in the mechanism," Berlusconi told one of his three TV stations.

"I was never a silent partner of Agrama's but on the contrary I was the injured party in this operation which wreaked damages of several million dollars to Mediaset," he said.

In August Italy's supreme Court of Cassation made a final ruling in the case, in which a series of shell companies was found to have siphoned off 370 million euros in taxpayers' money, and sentenced Berlusconi to four years, commuted to one by an amnesty.

The supreme-court judges said Berlusconi was the "creator of the mechanism for twisting (film) rights". The sentence triggered an automatic ban from office under a new anti-corruption law, set to be ratified by the Senate Wednesday, which Berlusconi claims is being applied retroactively and against the Italian Constitution.

The centre-right leader said he would present Appleby's affidavit and other evidence to a court in Brescia near Milan in the hope of having the case reopened.

Legal experts quoted in the Italian media Tuesday said Berlusconi appeared to have a weak case.

If the bid fails Berlusconi will start serving his one-year sentence, doing community service, next spring.

In other statements on TV Tuesday Berlusconi reiterated his long-stated claim that parliament should rein in "uncontrolled" and allegedly left-wing magistrates; said a public demonstration against his expected Senate ejection Wednesday was "perfectly legitimate" and "just the start" of a new campaign against his alleged persecution and "to defend freedom"; and said Russian President Vladimir Putin had been "incredulous and scandalised" when Berlusconi told his old friend about his judicial woes Monday night.

As well as the tax-fraud conviction, his first binding one in 20 years of legal battles, Berlusconi is appealing a seven-year term for paying an underage prostitute for sex and abusing his office as premier to cover up the affair.

He is also appealing a one-year term for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap that hurt a political rival; and has been indicted on charges of bribing a Senator to help bring down a previous centre-left government.