Mon, Feb 27, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Berlusconi ducks bribery verdict as trial thrown out

AFP, MILAN, ITALY

An Italian court threw out bribery charges against former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi under the statute of limitations on Saturday after a five-year trial, in another judicial victory for the former prime minister.

Prosecutors had called for a five-year prison term for the former prime minister, who was accused of having paid off his former British tax lawyer David Mills to provide false testimony in his favor in two trials in the 1990s.

Judge Francesca Vitale spent three hours considering the verdict after defense lawyers presented their closing case, but took less than a minute to tell a packed court that she ruled that the case had run out of time allowed by law.

Prosecutor Fabio de Pasquale looked downcast and told waiting hordes of journalists: “I just want to get out of here.”

The court is expected to present its findings within 90 days, which will reveal whether the three judges hearing the trial believed Berlusconi to be guilty and whether they would have ruled against him had the case not expired.

The former prime minister’s lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said his client “deserves to be completely absolved.”

The media magnate, who has always protested his innocence, was not in court. He had left Rome for Milan on Saturday morning, but had traveled to the northern Italian city to see his soccer team AC Milan play Juventus.

Despite his being convicted several times of corruption and false accounting in the past, all cases against Berlusconi have either been overturned or expired after years of moving laboriously through Italy’s justice system.

Berlusconi had been accused of paying his offshore tax expert US$600,000. Mills was tried in absentia, convicted in February 2009 and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.

The verdict was later upheld but the case against Mills finally expired in 2010, although judges said they believed him guilty of “very serious” corruption.

A protester outside the court on Saturday held a banner reading: “Mills is the guilty corrupted party, Berlusconi is the innocent briber?”

Berlusconi did everything he could to put off a verdict against him in the Mills case, complaining that the judges had refused to listen to all the defense witnesses and were conspiring against him.

“Having a statute of limitations [ruling] in Milan is a success for Berlusconi,” said Piero Longo, a lawyer for the former prime minister who has long complained that left-wing judges in Milan are out to get him.

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