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Italy Court Rejects Berlusconi Bid To Halt Tax Fraud Trial

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A Milan court on Friday rejected a request from Silvio Berlusconi's lawyers to suspend a tax fraud trial involving the purchase of broadcasting rights by his Mediaset media group until after the February 24-25 election.

The 76-year-old former prime minister is appealing against a previous court ruling over the case on October 26, in which he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Berlusconi's lawyers had argued that his position as leader of a coalition running in the election represented a legitimate impediment to his appearing in court.

His lawyers had also argued that the case would interfere with the electoral campaign. The judges rejected both requests.

The center-right coalition has not yet chosen a candidate for the premiership and Berlusconi, who was prime minister four times, has said he will not stand again.

Berlusconi is also facing a trial on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and a third trial for allegedly leaking a confidential phone call to the media.

Earlier this week Berlusconi's legal team failed to have the "Ruby" sex trial postponed. A final hearing of the closely watched case is scheduled for February 4, with a verdict likely to come before the vote.

The Mediaset tax fraud appeals trial started on Friday, and a verdict is unlikely to come any time soon. The next hearing is scheduled for January 25.

On Friday Berlusconi had the final hearing of the wiretap trial postponed until after the election.

In the parliamentary campaign, Berlusconi is leading a center-right coalition polling 26.3 percent against a center-left coalition on 37.5 percent.