Berlusconi corruption trial to resume in December 2009-11-28 10:54:16   Print

    ROME, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- A corruption trial against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will resume on Dec. 4 after the country's constitutional court lifted his immunity from prosecution, local media reported Friday.

    Berlusconi is accused of paying his former British tax adviser David Mills 600,000 U.S. dollars in bribes to give misleading evidence in two corruption trials in the 1990s. An appeals court in Milan last month confirmed Mills' four-and-a-half-year sentence for accepting the bribes.

    However, Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said the prime minister would not be able to attend the hearing due to a cabinet meeting on that same day.

    Ghedini said he and his client were confident. "If we find a fair-minded judge we will be acquitted," he said.

    Berlusconi will be tried by a different panel of judges from those who tried Mills. Under Italy's statute of limitations, the charges Berlusconi faces in the Mills case are due to expire in 2011.

    Italy's Constitutional Court last month rejected a law granting Berlusconi immunity from prosecution. The law was passed last year under pressure from the center-right government.

    A second trial, in which Berlusconi is accused of tax fraud involving his broadcaster Mediaset's purchase of TV rights during the 1990s, reopened in mid-November.

    The charges Berlusconi faces in this case are due to expire in 2012. However, he failed to attend the Nov. 16 hearing as he was at the World Summit on Food Security at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome.

    Berlusconi has repeatedly denied all charges against him, accusing the judges of being "partial" and of conducting a personal battle against him.

    Italy has been rocked by a fierce political debate on the powers of the judiciary, with the center-right government planning to reform the judiciary system by shortening trial durations through a controversial bill recently presented to parliament.

    If the bill becomes law and is applied retroactively, Berlusconi's two pending trials would be automatically "timed out."

    The measure would limit trials to six years for "light" offences carrying sentence of up to 10 years, such as corruption. It would not apply to heavy crimes such as child pornography.

    The bill was examined by an Italian Senate committee this week. The government wants to drive the controversial bill through parliament by the end of the year.

    In the meantime, the premier's People of Freedom Party has confirmed it would present a new version of the immunity law repelled by the high court.

    Opposition parties are waging a fierce battle against Berlusconi, amid calls for his resignation.

    On Friday, President Giorgio Napolitano asked the country's political forces and institutions to reduce tensions and collaborate.

    "Italy is facing important economic and social problems which require this growing spiral of drama to be at once stopped," he said.

    Napolitano said the government and the judiciary must remain distinct and independent spheres each with their own proper competences.

Editor: Han Jingjing
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