Tuesday, October 31, 2006


MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian judge ordered on Monday that former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stand trial on corruption charges along with lawyer David Mills.

Milan magistrates had accused Berlusconi of paying Mills, the estranged husband of Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, a $600,000 (315,000 pounds) kickback for not revealing details of Berlusconi's media empire when he testified in two court cases.

Berlusconi's lawyer confirmed that judge Fabio Paparella had ordered both Berlusconi and Mills to stand trial after preliminary hearings that started earlier this year. With the judge's order the two men were officially charged with corruption.

"They have been ordered to stand trial on corruption charges," lawyer Nicolo Ghedini told Reuters.

"The defence can't wait for the start of the debate on March 13 and hopes to have a judge 'super partes' who will exonerate Silvio Berlusconi swiftly," Ghedini said.

Both Berlusconi, who has faced a string of court cases, and Mills have denied the public prosecutor's allegations that Berlusconi paid the British lawyer the kickback in 1997.

The alleged crime carries a possible jail sentence of three to eight years. Italy's statute of limitations -- reduced under Berlusconi's government before the centre right lost elections in April -- means he is unlikely to be prosecuted on this count if the case stretches to 2008.

Mediaset, the publishing and broadcasting empire owned by the former prime minister's family, had no immediate comment. Lawyers for Mills were not immediately available.

Berlusconi and Mills are already standing trial with 12 others in a related case over allegations of fraud at Mediaset.

Prosecutors in that case suspect a U.S. firm sold television and cinema rights to two offshore firms controlled by Berlusconi family holding company Fininvest, which then allegedly sold them on at inflated prices to Mediaset, avoiding Italian taxes.

Berlusconi has faced several legal cases since he entered politics in 1994.

He has been fully acquitted in two, and in the others Italy's statute of limitations has kicked in.

COMMENT: It sure would be interesting if that neo-Fascist gangster should one day be summarily dispatched a la Il Duce, & his ill-gotten gains distributed among the poor…


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