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Italian court throws out case against Berlusconi lawyer Mills

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-02-25

Italy's top court has thrown out a case against British lawyer David Mills, who was convicted of taking a bribe from Silvio Berlusconi in 1999. The ruling could affect charges against the Italian prime minister in a related case.

AFP - A top Italian court Thursday threw out a corruption case against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's former tax lawyer David Mills saying it was out of time, the ANSA news agency reported.

Presiding judge Torquato Gemelli said Mills accepted a bribe from the billionaire prime minister in November 1999 and that the current trial was beyond the 10-year limit for prosecution set by Italian law.

"We are satisfied: this is a decision that recasts the verdict issued by the Milan appeals court," Mills' lawyers said.

The court sentenced Mills to pay 250,000 euros to the Italian government for damages to its image.

The ruling sets the stage for Berlusconi's trial over the same crime to be thrown out for the same reason.

"The expiration of the statute of limitations does not erase the crime and this verdict is a moral conviction for the prime minister. The corruption happened and in a civilized country the prime minister would have already stepped down," said opposition congressman Massimo Donadi in a statement, according to ANSA.

Mills, a specialist in offshore tax havens, was convicted by a Milan court a year ago of accepting a bribe of 600,000 dollars (440,000 euros) from Berlusconi in exchange for providing false evidence during two trials in the mid-1990s.

He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail and the judgement was confirmed by the lower appeals court in October.

Berlusconi was initially a co-defendant in the case but trials were suspended against him after parliament approved a law shielding him from prosecution while in office, shortly after he returned to power in 2008.

However Italy's Constitutional Court struck down that legislation last year.

Since a separate trial against the prime minister restarted in December, Berlusconi has not appeared in court in the two hearings, citing government commitments. The next hearing is scheduled for February 27.

Mills, the estranged husband of British Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, admitted receiving the money from Berlusconi as "recognition" for his work but later recanted and said the money was a stipend paid to him by Italian shipbuilder Diego Attanasio.

Berlusconi told the Italian press: "I don't know who this Mills is."

Jowell herself was investigated over the affair but was cleared of breaching a ministerial code of conduct in March 2005 by then British prime minister Tony Blair.

Berlusconi's battles with the law have marked his public life since he burst onto the political scene in the mid-1990s.

The media tycoon has faced charges including corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties.

Berlusconi has never been definitively convicted: in some trials he was acquitted, while in others charges were dropped because the statute of limitations expired.

Date created : 2010-02-25

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