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Berlusconi ordered to stand trial on corruption charge: Sources

Silvio Berlusconi waves after the preliminary hearing of the Mediatrade case at court
Vittorio Zunino Celotto | Getty Images
Silvio Berlusconi waves after the preliminary hearing of the Mediatrade case at court

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was ordered to stand trial for corruption on Wednesday, in a fresh legal blow to the centre-right leader following his conviction for tax fraud in August and a string of other cases.

Naples prosecutors accuse Berlusconi of bribing Sergio De Gregorio, a former senator in the small Italy of Values party, to switch allegiance as part of an attempt to bring down the centre-left government of former Prime Minister Romano Prodi in 2006.

De Gregorio, who has admitted receiving 3 million euros from Berlusconi and attempting to persuade other senators to change sides, was sentenced to 20 months in jail after plea bargaining.

(View slideshwo: Silvio Berlusconi's 'greatest' hits)

His change of sides contributed to destabilising Prodi's government and contributed to its eventual collapse, but he has since turned against Berlusconi.

"This is a decision which substantially confirms what I told the Naples magistrates," De Gregorio told SkyTG24 television. "I have cleared my conscience as far as possible and apologised for what I did," he said.

Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyer Michele Cerabona said he was confident of the outcome of a preliminary hearing expected on Feb. 11, 2014.

(Read more: Berlusconi's girlfriend spills the beans)

However, the case adds to a long list of legal headaches facing the billionaire media tycoon, who faces expulsion from parliament and a year of community service or house arrest after he was convicted of being at the center of a vast tax fraud system at his Mediaset television empire.

His legal battles have caused serious tension in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's coalition government, built around an unwieldy alliance between the centre-left Democratic Party and Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Berlusconi and his supporters have consistently argued that politically biased magistrates have tried to destroy him, and there was an immediate chorus of support from PDL lawmakers following news of the trial.

"The strategy of a certain section of the magistracy is clear as is its objective. Reform of the justice system is unavoidable," Mara Carfagna, spokeswoman of the PDL group in the lower house of parliament, said in a message on Twitter.

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