Silvio Berlusconi returned to court yesterday after an absence of nearly eight years to once again confront his judicial nemeses, as the criminal charges against him mount.
The preliminary hearing at Milan's Palace of Justice, which drew noisy crowds of supporters and protesters, will decide whether the Italian Prime Minister stands trial for tax fraud following an inquiry into the Mediatrade part of his broadcasting empire.
Mr Berlusconi, 74, is accused, along with senior company executives, of exaggerating the cost of Hollywood film rights and diverting the difference to overseas slush funds to avoid tax. The billionaire mogul is already facing charges of tax fraud in a related case, as well as indictments for bribery, paying for sex with a minor and abuse of office in two others.
Earlier in the day, Mr Berlusconi said on his own Mediaset Canale 5 TV channel: "The prosecutors have shown that they want to persecute me and they don't stop even in the face of facts and of ridiculousness."
But the rare appearance underlined the apparent change of strategy by the Prime Minister as he prepares to face the slew of criminal charges.
Mr Berlusconi was forced on to the back foot in January when the Constitutional Court threw out his ministerial immunity from prosecution. And the realisation appears to have sunk in that his puny majority in the lower house makes get-out-of-jail manoeuvres based on constitutional changes practically impossible.
"Everything went well. I'll come back next Monday," Mr Berlusconi told reporters after emerging from the court complex two hours later, with a familiar fixed grin.
But Mr Berlusconi the showman appeared genuinely enraptured by the crowd of cheering supporters. …