Berlusconi bribery case thrown out as legal timeline exceeded

Mon, Feb 27, 2012, 00:00

NOT FOR the first time, a verdict of “no verdict” was reached last Saturday in a case involving former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Milan judges, trying him on the charge he had bribed British lawyer David Mills, ruled the statute of limitations had kicked in and no verdict could be reached.

This was the sixth time in the last 20 years that a controversial case against Mr Berlusconi ended with the charges being dismissed because of the statute of limitations or prescrizione. In the past, accusations that the former prime minister had bribed a judge to win over control of the Mondadori publishing house; illegally financed the Socialist party of the late, disgraced Italian prime minister Bettino Craxi; and overseen the creation and use of offshore slush funds at his Fininvest holding company all fell foul of the statute of limitations deadline.

Both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mills totally reject the bribery charges. On Saturday, Mr Berlusconi said “only a half-justice” had been done.

However, in February 2009, a Milan court had given Mr Mills a 4½-year jail sentence, ruling that he had accepted a $600,000 bribe for having committed perjury on Mr Berlusconi’s behalf in two Milan trials in the 1990s. Mr Mills had been called to give evidence since he was one of the architects of the network of offshore companies controlled by Fininvest. Mr Mills’s conviction was quashed in February 2010, again because of the statute of limitations.

Former investigating magistrate and leader of the Italy of Values party, Antonio di Pietro, yesterday argued that “once again” the ex-prime minister had been saved by the statute of limitations.

Many commentators believe that Saturday’s ruling now means that Mr Berlusconi will revive his ambitions to run for the office of Italian state president next year.