Threatened with jail, Berlusconi lashes out at judges

AFP , Thursday 16 Feb 2012

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi lashes out at judges whom he alleges are out to smear him

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi launched a public attack Thursday on the country's judges, accusing them of being out to "destroy" him after prosecutors called for the tycoon to be jailed for bribery.

"It's judicial persecution, an endless attempt to smear me, which has turned the court into a special court which aims to take Berlusconi out of politics and destroy him as a person," the media magnate told Channel 5 television.

Berlusconi's legal woes returned to haunt him Wednesday when prosecutors asked he be sentenced to five years in prison for paying his former tax lawyer David Mills $600,000 (450,000 euros) to provide false testimony in the 1990s.

He has denied the charges and accuses prosecutors of a plot against him.

"Only the prosecutors' witnesses were admitted, those of the defence were chucked out... Can there be worse justice than this?" Berlusconi said.

"I am treated like a criminal," the party-loving 75-year-old said, slamming a national justice system which he has repeatedly accused of being left-wing and has said "even blind people" can see is in urgent need of reform.

Berlusconi, who remained a member of parliament after stepping down in November, is a defendant in four ongoing trials for bribery, tax fraud, sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power, and violating official secrets.

In his most high-profile case, the ageing playboy risks 12 years in prison for having paid for sex with a young Moroccan dancer known as Ruby and abused his position to protect her after she was taken into custody for alleged theft.

"That trial should not even begin, because Ruby herself has always denied the things I am accused of," Berlusconi said.

"Milan's prosecutors have demonstrated their persistence against me in every possible way, but I will defend myself," he added.

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