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Silvio Berlusconi, others to receive verdict in 6-year-old tax fraud trial

An Italian court is set to deliver verdicts Friday against former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and 10 others in a six-year-old tax fraud trial.

Prosecutors have demanded a sentence of 3 years and eight months for Berlusconi and three years and four months for the chairman of his Mediaset conglomerate, Fedele Confalonieri.

The verdict comes two days after Berlusconi, 76, announced he will not run for premier in upcoming elections. The three-time premier stepped down last November after Italy came under mounting market pressure to deal with its high debt load and Berlusconi failed to come up with persuasive financial reforms.

Prosecutors allege the defendants were behind a scheme to purchase the rights to broadcast U.S. movies on Berlusconi's private television networks through a series of offshore companies and had falsely declared the payments to avoid taxes.

Prosecutors further allege the inflated the price for the TV rights of some 3,000 films as they relicensed them internally to Berlusconi's networks, pocketing the difference amounting to around €250 million.

Other charges of false accounting and false statements in financial reports were thrown out because the statute of limitations expired.

Prosecutors also demanded six years for Paolo Del Bue, a founder of the private Swiss bank Arner, who is accused of money laundering, and three years and eight months for Hollywood producer Frank Agrama.

The trial began in July 2006, but was put on hold by a now-defunct immunity law that shielded the Berlusconi from prosecution while he was premier until it was watered down by the constitutional court. The trial also faced delays as Berlusconi cited conflicts with his schedule as premier.

Berlusconi has been tried numerous times for his business dealings. He has always denied wrongdoing and alleged that the cases were politically motivated. In each case to date, he has been cleared or seen the statute of limitations expire.

The statute of limitations in this case is set to expire sometime next year. In Italy, cases must pass two levels of appeal before the verdicts are final.

Berlusconi also is on trial in Milan on charges of paying for sex with an under-age teenager and trying to cover it up.

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