David Mills may face first court hearing this week

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Indy Politics

David Mills could face his first court appearance on charges of accepting a bribe from Silvio Berlusconi as early as Wednesday.

Sources close to the judge trying the case involving Tessa Jowell's husband indicate that he is keen to hold a preliminary hearing as soon as possible.

The hearing could see further revelations emerge about Mr Mills's complex business dealings that have already brought his wife, the Secretary of State for Culture, to the political brink.

She survived a Cabinet Office inquiry by insisting that she had not been told about a £344,000 "gift" Mr Mills initially claimed had been paid by the Italian premier for giving false evidence in a previous court appearance. He later retracted this, insisting he had made the claim up in a tax dispute.

Observers of the Italian judicial system doubt the case will reach a conclusion.

A law passed last year called the "Ex-Cirielli" reduced the statute of limitations for bribery from 15 years to 10. If a conviction is not confirmed by 2008, the case expires.

Even before Mr Berlusconi's "reforms", the Italian legal system was sluggish. If Judge Fabio Paparella gives the nod to the Mills-Berlusconi case next week, hearings are unlikely to start before summer, because the courts are still struggling with another case involving Mr Mills, Mr Berlusconi and 12 others on charges of fraud and corruption.