Italy's embattled prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has appeared before a Milan court presiding over a fraud case involving the billionaire's media empire. It is one of four cases hanging over Berlusconi's head.
Popular support for Berlusconi has dropped in recent months
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attended his first hearing in eight years on Monday over allegations of fiscal fraud and breach of trust in his Mediaset business empire.
Berlusconi - as well as his son Pier Silvio Berlusconi, who is deputy chairman of Mediaset - are accused of fraud and embezzlement over the acquisition of television rights for inflated prices.
The hearing in Milan is part of a process to decide whether Berlusconi should stand trial in the case.
Berlusconi told broadcaster Canale 5, which comes under the Mediaset umbrella, that the charges were "ridiculous and unfounded."
"And anyway since entering politics in 1994, I have distanced myself from the company (Mediaset) that I founded and I have dedicated myself to my country," Berlusconi added.
Italians have taken the streets calling for Berlusconi to step down
Last year, Italy's Constitutional Court struck down a law that protected the billionaire prime minister from prosecution. The cases had been frozen up to that point.
It's the first of four hearings bearing down on Berlusconi, who is set to stand trial next month on charges that he slept with an underage prostitute. He is also involved in a bribery trial which reopened last week.
The embattled leader has denied all charges against him, insisting they are part of a left-wing plot to oust him.
"Communism never changes in Italy. There are still people who use the penal code as a weapon in their ideological battles," he said. "None of the facts on which the Milan prosecutors have built their case are true."
Author: Darren Mara (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner