May 9, 2011 12:34 pm

Berlusconi back in court for Mills case

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Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister, has attended a court hearing in Milan where he is on trial for allegedly corrupting David Mills, his former UK lawyer, to give false testimony to protect his media empire.

Mr Berlusconi had no comment as he entered the court on Monday morning but said he would make a statement to reporters later.

The 74-year-old billionaire is currently involved in four court cases against him, but this was the first time he had attended a session of the long-running trial involving Mr Mills, who has already been found guilty of receiving a bribe from Mr Berlusconi.

Mr Berlusconi is accused of paying Mr Mills, the estranged husband of Tessa Jowell – Britain’s former minister for the 2012 Olympics – a $600,000 bribe in the late 1990s to give false testimony in two trials to protect his business interests. Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mills have both denied the charges.

The hearing opened in a tense atmosphere after Mr Berlusconi, who claims he is a victim of a politically biased judiciary, described Milan’s judges as a “cancer of society” during a political rally on Saturday.

Large pictures of two magistrates killed by terrorists and one by the mafia hung at the entrance of the courts on Monday to commemorate the “Judges victims of terrorism” day.

Mr Mills, former tax lawyer who acted for Mr Berlusconi, was convicted by a court in Milan and again on appeal for receiving a bribe from Mr Berlusconi. He was sentenced to jail but a final court of appeal last year shelved the case, ruling that the alleged crime had fallen under the statue of limitations.

Time is also running out for the court to conclude the case against Mr Berlusconi, and legal experts say it is unlikely to run its course.

The trial was suspended in 2008 when parliament passed a law giving Mr Berlusconi immunity from prosecution while in office. It recommenced in March, following two rulings by the Constitutional court.

New legislation, which is still making its way through parliament, would cut the length of many current trials, including the Mills trial that lawyers say would be terminated this summer without reaching a conclusion.

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