Silvio Berlusconi paves way for return to Italian politics

Former PM declared this week that he would like to be Italy's Finance Minister

There is a growing sense in Italy that Silvio Berlusconi's star is rising again, a sense that has been heightened by a judge's decision in Rome yesterday to throw out tax-fraud charges ranged against the mogul, his son and senior executives in his broadcast empire.

The news follows the former Prime Minister's increasing re-engagement with national politics, leading to the declaration this week that he would like to return to government as Finance Minister in a new centre-right administration.

Mr Berlusconi was buoyed yesterday by the preliminary investigations judge Pierluigi Balestrieri's ruling that there was insufficient evidence to send the 75-year-old tycoon, his son Piersilvio and 10 other people to trial on tax-evasion charges relating to the purchase of US film rights.

The judge invoked the statute of limitations in dismissing other indictments for which the Rome prosecutors called; these also pertained to the tax affairs of Mr Berlusconi's Mediaset TV empire between 2003 and 2004.

In February the "David Mills" bribery case, in which the former premier was accused of paying the British lawyer to lie under oath, also expired under the statute of limitations. Mr Berlusconi remains a defendant in two other trials, both taking place in Milan. In one he faces tax-fraud charges relating to an earlier period in his TV business affairs.

Earlier this month, the prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale called for the three-time Prime Minister to get three years and eight months in jail for his part in the alleged plot to create overseas slush funds with money saved by tax-dodging. The next hearing is set for early July.

But some experts doubt whether the prosecution will be able to nail the mogul while armed only with complicated evidence from 15-year-old accounting trails across several continents. Professor James Walston, of the American University in Rome, said: "He's paving the way for a comeback. For now, he's only set his sights on Finance Minister so as to appear modest."