Silvio Berlusconi calls unfounded antitrust probe against him

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi called "unfounded" on Friday a probe opened by the country's antitrust authority to establish if he violated conflict-of-interest rules after his government approved subsidies to Italians who buy digital-television decoders. Italy's competitions regulator said Thursday that its investigation related to money that was set aside in the 2006 budget, approved by Parliament the same day.

Italy has paid Ђ200 million (US$236.44 million) since 2004 to buyers of digital decoders in a bid to promote digital TV. The decoders are used to translate digital broadcasts into a format that can be viewed on an analog set. Critics say the subsidies favor Berlusconi's television broadcasting empire, Mediaset SPA, and the case marks the latest of many legal cases against the premier.

"This is a shame, and the antitrust authority will prove me right," Berlusconi said. The premier's comments came as Berlusconi's brother acknowledged that his company benefited from government subsidies for digital television decoders but insisted that accusations of conflict of interest against the premier were "ridiculous."

The investigation was triggered by a complaint by center-left legislators that Paolo Berlusconi, Silvio's brother, had benefited from the subsidies as a shareholder of, a company that sells the units. In an interview with daily La Stampa, Paolo Berlusconi said the accusation was a "ridiculous effort at exploitation by the opposition", reports the AP. N.U.

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