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Berlusconi's Fininvest ordered to pay 494 million euros in damages

A general view of Arnoldo Mondadori's headquarters in Segrate, outside Milan in this April 21, 2011 file photograph. REUTERS/Paolo Bona/File
A general view of Arnoldo Mondadori's headquarters in Segrate, outside Milan in this April 21, 2011 file photograph. REUTERS/Paolo Bona/File

ROME (Reuters) - The family holding company of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was ordered on Tuesday to pay 494 million euros in damages stemming from the disputed purchase of publisher Mondadori.

The final ruling by Italy's top appeals court was a fresh blow to Berlusconi, 76, already reeling from a supreme court verdict which confirmed a four-year jail sentence last month, commuted to one year, for massive fraud at his Mediaset television empire.

The ruling in the long-running case came as Berlusconi postponed an announcement in which he is likely to steer away from moves to bring down the government, political sources said.

The fine against loss-making Fininvest was reduced to 540 million euros ($721 million) from 564 million euros in a previous ruling, according to calculations made from a copy of the verdict e-mailed to Reuters.

CIR said in a statement later on Tuesday "the final amount of compensation awarded to the company is approximately 494 million euros."

The case related to the 1991 battle for control of Mondadori between Fininvest and CIR and was the civil leg of a criminal trial which in 2007 found Berlusconi's former lawyer guilty of bribing a judge.

Berlusconi's privately held Fininvest has already paid the fine to the De Benedetti family CIR holding, founded by his arch-rival Carlo De Benedetti, and Tuesday's ruling allows CIR to access the money which was frozen pending a final decision.

"For 20 years a certain part of the judiciary together with the publishing group of Carlo De Benedetti have been trying to eliminate my father from the political scene by attacking him on all fronts," Marina Berlusconi, Silvio's eldest daughter and chairwoman of Fininvest, said in a statement.

"This sentence is not justice; it's a slap in the face of justice."

Fininvest is the Berlusconi family holding that controls assets worth more than 5 billion euros ($6.6 billion), including Mediaset. It has always denied any wrongdoing in the case.

"After more than 20 years, light has now finally been shed on the gravity of the theft that CIR, through my person, suffered following the proven corruption of a judge by Berlusconi's Fininvest," De Benedetti said in a statement.

"The amount of the compensation is significant, but it must be considered that less than a third of it is for the damage suffered while more than two thirds are due to the interest and inflation mechanism because of the 20 years that have passed."

CIR shares rose 6.7 percent to 1.22 euros after the ruling, while Mediaset was down 0.5 percent at 3.39 euros. ($1 = 0.7489 euros)

(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; writing by Steve Scherer and Silvia Aloisi; Editing by David Cowell and David Evans)

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