ROME (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi was sent to trial on Friday for allegedly bribing a businessman to lie over accusations he had supplied the former Italian prime minister with prostitutes a decade ago.
Prosecutors say Berlusconi gave Gianpaolo Tarantini 500,000 euros ($570,000) in cash, found him a job and supplied him with lawyers to say that the then-premier did not know the women were being paid to attend parties at his villa.
The trial is due to start on Feb. 4 in the southern city of Bari. It is the latest in a long string of legal problems for the 82-year-old media tycoon since he entered politics 24 years ago.
After a four-year jail sentence for tax fraud in 2013, linked to his Mediaset television company, was converted into a year of community service, he was barred from public office and stripped of his seat in parliament.
Berlusconi, who can now run for elections, has always denied wrongdoing in the case and has repeatedly accused prosecutors of conducting a political witch-hunt against him.
“We are relaxed that at the hearing president Berlusconi will be completely acquitted,” his lawyers Nicolo Ghedini and Francesco Paolo Sisto said.
Berlusconi suffered a major political setback at national elections in March when his Forza Italia (Go Italy!) was only the fourth largest party and was overtaken by its traditionally junior coalition partner, the far-right League.
The League then formed a government with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, while Forza Italia went into opposition. It has continued to lose support and now has the backing of less than 10 percent of voters, according to opinion polls.
Reporting by Vincenzo Damiani in Bari, writing by Giulia Segreti. Editing by Patrick Johnston