Legal break for Berlusconi

Statute of limitations runs out on bribery case

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won a reprieve from his legal woes on Thursday when Italy’s Supreme Court threw out a case against British lawyer David Mills who had been convicted of taking a bribe to lie under oath about the media mogul’s business dealings.

Mills was not declared innocent — the Rome court ruled that the statute of limitations had run out.

The ruling is now widely expected to result in the same verdict for Berlusconi, whose trial on the charge that he ordered the payment to Mills is scheduled to start on Saturday in Milan.

Berlusconi’s trial had been put on hold by an immunity law preventing him from being prosecuted while in office. But the trial resumed in December after Italy’s Constitutional Court overturned the law. The trial was then postponed pending the outcome of Mills’ appeal.

Mills was found guilty last year by two lower courts and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison after prosecutors charged that he received $600,000 from Berlusconi’s Fininvest holding company to withhold information about fraudulent offshore accounts he helped set up in the 1990s.

Berlusconi also faces trial on tax fraud charges in connection with Mediaset’s alleged offshore accounts.

Prosecutors allege that Berlusconi siphoned off $400 million from the coffers of his Mediaset TV group by using the offshore companies to buy U.S. TV and movie rights and then resell them to his Mediaset TV group at inflated prices.

Mills, Berlusconi and officials for Fininvest and for its Mediaset TV unit have denied all charges.

Since going into politics in the mid-1990s Berlusconi has faced eight trials in which he either was found innocent or charges were dropped due to the statute of limitations.

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