Election reprieve for Berlusconi over phone tape leak case

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An Italian court yesterday agreed to postpone Silvio Berlusconi’s trial for allegedly leaking a recording of a confidential telephone call until after next month’s general election.

Berlusconi is accused of leaking the information in a case related to a 2005 banking scandal. He faces two other trials for alleged tax fraud and paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

Prosecutors in the wiretap case have asked for a one-year jail term for the former premier and media tycoon. A verdict is now expected on 7 March, after elections on 24-25 February, judge Oscar Magi said. It was previously scheduled for 7 February.

Earlier this week lawyers for the Berlusconi, 76, failed to have the “Ruby” sex trial postponed, after they argued it could be used by political rivals to damage his chances of re-election.

Yesterday’s case stems from allegations that Berlusconi pushed for the publication of a transcript of a wiretap in a daily newspaper Il Giornale, owned by his brother Paolo, in order to damage a political opponent.

The taped phone call related to a bid by insurer Unipol to buy bank Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in 2005 which eventually fell through, prompting an investigation for possible financial crimes by some of the dealmakers. Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing and repeatedly said politically-motivated magistrates in Milan are persecuting him with cooked-up prosecutions. He also denies charges of paying for sex with a minor. The final hearing in that case is scheduled for 4 February, with a verdict likely before the election.

An appeal against a tax fraud conviction for which he was sentenced to four years’ jail in October has not yet started.