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Italy Court Rules Hospitalised Berlusconi Can Attend Tax Trial

Silvio Berlusconi
Marco Tacca | Getty Images

Milan court doctors ruled onSaturday that Silvio Berlusconi was able to attend a tax fraudappeal, rejecting the former prime minister's complaint that aneye condition prevented him leaving hospital.

The 76-year-old centre-right leader and media mogul faces aspate of trials this month as he fights for his political futurefollowing the inconclusive national election.

On Friday a hearing in a trial where he is accused of havingsex with an under-age prostitute was postponed after he enteredhospital with an eye problem, despite the prosecutor's complaintthat the hospitalisation was merely a delaying tactic.

However, on Saturday the court in the tax fraud case sentinspectors to examine him in the clinic where he was beingtreated by his private doctor and they ruled that his problemwas not a "legitimate impediment" to him appearing in court.

"It's been rejected, we are carrying on," one ofBerlusconi's lawyers told Reuters.

Berlusconi's doctor had said the inflammation in hispatient's left eye caused him pain and disturbed vision. But theruling meant the appeals hearing could go ahead on Saturday withor without the defendant being present.

Berlusconi is appealing against a four-year jail sentencefor tax fraud in connection with the purchase of broadcastingrights by his television network Mediaset.

Berlusconi denies all wrongdoing and said on Thursday he wasthe victim of "judicial persecution ... which re-emerges everytime there are politically complex moments in the political lifeof our country".

He fell short of a victory in last month's election, eventhough he rallied his supporters and performed better thanexpected. The vote ended with a hung parliament and Italy'spresident is still struggling to form a new government.

Berlusconi's People of Liberty party (PDL) has organised apublic rally on March 23 to protest against prosecutors thatBerlusconi calls the "cancer of our democracy".

Under Italian law, Berlusconi will not serve any jail timeuntil the appeals process is exhausted.

In the tax fraud case even if the appeals court upholds hisprevious 4-year jail sentence it could still be overturned by ahigher court. Two appeals are standard procedure in Italy'scriminal justice system.

Berlusconi was convicted three times during the 1990s,before being either cleared by higher courts or benefiting fromthe statute of limitations by which cases expire if a finalverdict is not reached within a given time period.

On Thursday, he was sentenced to one year in jail over thepublication by his family's newspaper of a transcript of aleaked wiretap connected to a banking scandal in2006.

In that case, the statute of limitations for the chargesexpires in September, before the appeals process can becompleted, legal sources said.