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Berlusconi's battle

July 9, 2011

An appeals court in Milan has ordered Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's media holding company to pay damages worth more than half a billion euros to a business rival.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi
More troubles await Italy's embattled prime ministerImage: AP

A Milan appeals court ruled Saturday that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's media holding company, Fininvest, must pay compensation totaling 560 million euros ($800 million) to rival media group, Compagnie Industirali Riunite (CIR), after Fininvest bribed a judge to approve a company takeover.

The verdict is the latest installment in a long judicial tussle that goes back to 1991, when Fininvest was first accused of bribing a judge to win a takeover battle for one of Italy's leading publishing houses, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.

Fininvest won control of Mondadori at the expense of CIR thanks to a ruling at the time by a Rome judge, who was later sentenced and sent to prison for corruption.

Saturday's appeals court decision, however, reduced by a quarter the original compensation judgment of a lower court asking for 750 million euros in damages.

Next round of appeals is certain

Headquarters of Mondadori Publishers in Milan
Mondadori, a leading Italian publisher, was a big prizeImage: Michel Moch

Berlusconi this week tried to pass a measure that would have suspended the penalty, but had to hastily backpedal due to a lack of support from his coalition partners and a public outcry.

Fininvest's chairwoman, Marina Berlusconi, said in a statement that the company would now take the case to Italy's top appeals court.

"We are certain that we are in the right and we must believe our reasons will eventually be recognized," she said, adding that this was the latest episode in years of "wild aggression" against her father.

The conservative prime minister has repeatedly accused Italy's judiciary of plotting against him.

CIR chairman Carlo De Benedetti owns the left-of-center newspaper, La Repubblica, one of Berlusconi's fiercest critics.

Author: Gregg Benzow (dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler