Berlusconi bribery trial rejected by judges

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The Independent Online

Italian judges yesterday threw out bribery charges against the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, saying that the statute of limitation had run out.

The billionaire media mogul was accused of paying his former tax lawyer, David Mills – the estranged husband of Labour MP Tessa Jowell – to lie in court.

Mr Berlusconi, who resigned as premier in November as the eurozone crisis engulfed Italy, has always denied any wrongdoing in the case, repeatedly accusing what he called politically biased left-wing judges of mounting a campaign to destroy him.

The prosecution alleged that Mr Berlusconi gave Mr Mills £382,000 to lie in court about Mr Berlusconi's business interests; it demanded a five-year sentence. The British lawyer was convicted in 2009 of taking a bribe from Mr Berlusconi and received a four-and-a-half-year jail sentence. The conviction was quashed in 2010.

Last December, Mr Mills told a Milan court the money had come from an associate he had not wanted to admit dealing with. He said he was "deeply ashamed" for falsely claiming Mr Berlusconi had given him the money.

The latest trial had been suspended many times because of Mr Berlusconi's prime ministerial duties and a period of immunity granted by parliament.

In a statement, Mr Berlusconi said Mr Mills was "one of many lawyers abroad that occasionally worked for the Fininvest group. I don't recall ever having met him".

He still faces trials linked to his Mediaset empire and on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute.