Four Hong Kong firms caught up in a fraud case involving former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi were given the go-ahead yesterday to apply to the High Court for permission to cross-examine prosecutors in Italy. They claim the prosecutors illegally searched their offices last year. The Court of Appeal turned down the government's appeal against an earlier ruling by Mr Justice John Saunders that the High Court had jurisdiction to issue a letter requesting the Italian authorities allow counsel for the companies to cross-examine Fabio De Pasquale and his team. In January last year, under mutual legal assistance granted by the Hong Kong government, the Italian prosecutors searched and seized materials from Harmony Gold, Wilshire Trading, CS Secretaries, and Loong Po Management. They also searched the homes of Harmony Gold directors Paddy Chan Mei-yiu and Katherine Hsu May-chun. The search was made in connection with a continuing investigation into alleged tax fraud, embezzlement and false accounting by Berlusconi. The companies alleged the team misled the secretary for justice and Hong Kong police by exaggerating the gravity of the alleged offences and the amount of money involved. The prosecutors have refused to come to Hong Kong to testify. Gerard McCoy SC, for the companies, said it was ironic that Hong Kong's assistance to its Italian counterparts was not reciprocated. 'These critical parties, having taken advantage of Hong Kong law and left, refused to give evidence in court and said: 'Catch me if you can',' he said. Clive Grossman SC, for the government, argued it was the intention of the legislature that the High Court have jurisdiction to apply on behalf of Hong Kong authorities to obtain evidence from overseas jurisdictions - but not on behalf of individuals involved in criminal matters. 'The critical witnesses are Hong Kong police, who have already given their evidence. You are now asking for more people to give evidence about exactly the same thing.' But Mr McCoy said the court had the 'inherent jurisdiction' to issue a letter of request to an overseas jurisdiction on behalf of individuals to prevent miscarriages of justice. Mr Justice Peter Cheung Chak-yau and Madam Justice Maria Yuen Ka-ning dismissed the appeal after the parties finished their submissions. The case will be returned to Mr Justice Saunders in April. He will decide whether he should ask the Italian authorities to allow the parties to get evidence from the prosecutors.