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Court orders Berlusconi to stand trial for political bribery

An Italian court has decided that former premier Silvio Berlusconi should face trial for corruption. In his latest spot of legal adversity, the media tycoon is accused of trying to bribe a senator.

A judge ordered on Wednesday that Berlusconi should stand trial for the alleged bribing of a senator in an effort to bring down the government.

The 77-year-old former prime minister was formally charged, along with his former associate, Velter Lavitola, who is accused of acting as a middle man.

The investigation has been carried out by prosecutors in the city of Naples, to which the senator's seat belonged.

The senator himself, Sergio De Gregorio, has already been given a 20-month prison sentence under a plea bargain after helping investigators. De Gregorio confessed he had received 3 million euros (3.95 million dollars) from Berlusconi.

De Gregorio's lawyers claimed the payment was a legitimate contribution to a small party the senator founded when switching political sides.

The alleged bribery dates back to the aftermath of a parliamentary election in 2006, which was narrowly won by a center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi. De Gregorio crossed the aisle a few months later, helping to bring down the Prodi administration. The subsequent elections were won by Berlusconi.

While Berlusconi, leader of Italy's largest centre-right party, the People of Freedom (PDL), has been repeatedly accused of buying votes, this is the first time he has officially been charged with corrupting a politician.

The three-times former premier was convicted definitively of tax fraud in August - a ruling that could lead to him being ejected from a parliamentary senate seat for the first time.

Berlusconi is currently appealing convictions for having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of prime ministerial powers – offences that could see him jailed for seven years. He is also appealing a conviction over the leaking of a confidential police wiretap, ostensibly to damage a political opponent.

rc /tj (AFP, AP , Reuters)