Bribery trial for Berlusconi

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE Former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was ordered to stand trial yesterday on corruption charges related to his Fininvest business empire, writes Andrew Gumbel from Rome.

The announcement is the latest in a series of blows to his ambitions to regain political power following the collapse of his centre-right coalition government 10 months ago.

A pre-trial court in Milan ruled that Mr Berlusconi and 10 other defendants, including his brother Paolo, would go on trial next 17 January to answer accusations that Fininvest paid some 230m lire (pounds 100,000) in bribes to the tax authorities in exchange for an easy audit of the company's books.

Although the charges are relatively minor by the standards of Italy's more vertiginous recent corruption scandals - it is highly unlikely Mr Berlusconi would go to jail if convicted - they have proved a political bombshell ever since they were first aired last November.

Then, the news that Mr Berlusconi was under investigation led directly to his resignation as prime minister. Now, news of his impending trial could pressure him into stepping down as the centre-right's prime ministerial candidate at the general elections expected in the next few months.

Mr Berlusconi pre-empted the news of his impending trial with a series of attacks on the judiciary, saying he was the victim of a "police state".