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Italian court upholds EUR 500m fine against Berlusconi firm

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(ROME) - An Italian appeals court Tuesday upheld a fine of more than 500 million euros that Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest company must pay to a rival media group, in another legal setback for the former premier.

The court rejected Berlusconi's final appeal in the case but it slightly reduced the fine to 541 million euros ($722 million) from 564 million euros, media reported.

The damages had been ordered in compensation for Fininvest having wrested control of the leading Mondadori publishing house from Compagnie Industriali Riunite (CIR) in 1990 after it bribed a judge to approve a company takeover.

A judge in the original case had ruled that billionaire politician Berlusconi was "co-responsible" for the bribery of the judge who had ruled in favour of Fininvest in the takeover battle.

CIR's honorary president is Berlusconi rival Carlo de Benedetti, and the group runs the weekly news magazine L'Espresso and the left-leaning daily La Repubblica -- avid chroniclers of the ex-prime minister's legal woes and sex scandals.

The 76-year-old Berlusconi's legal battles have continued with a definitive criminal conviction for tax fraud in August. He could also possibly be expelled from parliament.

Despite losing his appeal on the Mondadori fine, Berlusconi cannot be prosecuted in the case as the facts were legally prescribed in 2001 -- meaning the period for legal action had expired.

Berlusconi's daughter Marina, head of the Fininvest company, said after Tuesday's appeal ruling that the decision was yet another attempt by judges to "remove my father from the political scene".

"This verdict is not justice, it's a new slap at justice," she said in a statement.

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