Berlusconi investment arm must pay $797 million

By COLLEEN BARRY | July 9, 2011 | 5:29 AM EDT

Mondadori publishing group building is seen in Milan, Friday, July 8, 2011. Premier Silvio Berlusconi on last Tuesday hastily withdrew a measure that would have allowed his family investment company to delay paying a hefty fine, following public outcry. The measure would have forced judges to delay payment of especially high fines until all appeals have been exhausted. Berlusconi's family Fininvest investment company has been ordered to pay €750 million ($1.1 billion) to a rival for alleged corruption in the takeover of the Mondadori publishing house in the 1990s. A verdict in the appeal of the two-year-old decision is expected this week. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

MILAN (AP) — Premier Silvio Berlusconi's family investment company was ordered Saturday to immediately pay euro560 ($797) million to a rival media group for corruption in the acquisition of the Mondadori publishing company — a devastating sum and a significant blow to the Italian leader.

The Milan appellate court, while upholding a 2009 verdict against Fininvest, reduced the damages from euro750 million.

The civil damage award stems from a case in which three Berlusconi associates were convicted of corrupting a judge to overturn a ruling in favor of industrialist Carlo De Benedetti in the struggle for control of Mondadori in the 1990s.

Berlusconi's daughter Marina Berlusconi, who heads Fininvest, said the "totally unjust verdict" was part of a campaign against her father.

"The verdict represents the umpteenth scandalous episode of violent aggression that has gone on for years against my father, by all means and on all fronts, including entrepreneurial and economic," Marina Berlusconi said in a statement.

She complained that the award was worth twice Fininvest's share of Mondadori capital and said lawyers were already working on strategy for an appeal to the nation's highest court.

Berlusconi came under fire this week when he introduced a measure into Italy's austerity budget that would have allowed Fininvest to delay payment until the final appeal. Berlusconi hastily withdrew the measure under opposition political pressure, but even allies claimed to have been unaware that the measure had been buried in the package.