AFP - The former tax lawyer of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Britain's David Mills, was found guilty Tuesday of accepting a bribe and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail.
The 600,000-dollar bribe is alleged to have come from Berlusconi, who last year passed a law making himself immune from prosecution, in return for Mills providing false evidence in two earlier trials in the late 1990s.
After the verdict and sentence were announced at a court in Milan, 64-year-old Mills issued a statement in London protesting his innocence and saying he was hopeful he would be cleared on appeal.
"I am naturally very disappointed by this verdict. I am innocent, but this is a highly political case.
"The judges have not yet given their reasons for their decision, so I cannot say how they dealt with the prosecutor's own admission that he had no proof.
"I am hopeful that the verdict and sentence will be set aside on appeal and am told that I will have excellent grounds, and have every faith in my excellent lawyer, Federico Cecconi."
Cecconi, announcing their intention to appeal, said the sentence ran "contrary to all logic and we are challenging it."
Mills, the estranged husband of British Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, once admitted receiving the amount from the media tycoon "in recognition" for his work, but he later recanted and said the money was a stipend paid to him by Italian shipbuilder Diego Attanasio.
"This is a terrible blow to David and, although we are separated, I have never doubted his innocence," Jowell, speaking in London, said after the sentence and verdict were announced.
Mills and Berlusconi, along with a dozen other defendants, are also accused of tax fraud in the purchase of film rights in the United States by Mediaset, the television group owned by the Berlusconi family.
AFP - Mills is being tried separately in the case, since Berlusconi is shielded from prosecution while in office under a law passed shortly after he returned to power in May 2008 with a comfortable parliamentary majority.
The law grants political immunity to the incumbents of Italy's four top jobs: prime minister, president and the speakers of the two houses of parliament.
Berlusconi has repeatedly accused magistrates, notably in his native Milan, of conducting a politically motivated campaign against him.
Mills expressed hope that Italy's protracted appeals process could still see him cleared.
"The sentence does not become effective for any purpose until two levels of appeal have been concluded," his statement said.
"I have been advised not to make any further public comment on the case until it has finally come to an end. Meanwhile, I am getting on with my professional life."