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Berlusconi absent from court as bribery trial resumes

Silvio Berlusconi was absent in court at the resumption of his corruption trial on Friday with his lawyers asking for earlier hearings to be invalidated. The Italian Prime Minister is accused of trying to buy the silence of his former tax lawyer.

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AFP - A corruption trial against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resumed on Friday with his lawyers asking for earlier hearings to be invalidated and proceedings started again from scratch.

The billionaire politician is accused of buying the silence of his British former tax lawyer David Mills for 600,000 dollars (400,000 euros) in two court cases in the mid-1990s.

Berlusconi, 73, also faces a tax fraud trial, set to resume Monday, involving his sprawling media empire.

A decision to restart the bribery case from the beginning would effectively cancel the trial, as the statute of limitations is set to apply on April 11, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

"The defence believes the past actions of the court are no longer usable," one of Berlusconi's lawyers, Piero Longo, told reporters before the hearing.

The case against Berlusconi was suspended in October 2008 under a law he initiated shortly after winning elections with a comfortable majority that granted him immunity from prosecution while in power.

Italy's constitutional court quashed the immunity law in October 2009, allowing the trial to resume.

Mills, tried separately in the case, was sentenced to four years in prison.

Under Italian law, Berlusconi's lawyers can seek the invalidation of all proceedings leading up to the trial of Mills, who is separated from Britain's Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell.

Berlusconi did not attend court on Friday, but another of his lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini, said he would come when needed, adding that two further procedural hearings were expected in January.
  

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