Verdict time for Berlusconi in bribery trial

Verdict time for Berlusconi in bribery trial

Silvio Berlusconi faces a verdict on bribery charges today in one of four trials against a once dominant presence in Italian politics who is increasingly harried by legal woes in his old age.

Judges will retire to consider the verdict after the defence makes its final arguments in a hearing in Milan set to start at around 0900 GMT. Lawyers said they were expecting the verdict to come in the late today.

Prosecutors have requested a five-year prison term for Berlusconi, who protests his innocence, but he is unlikely to see the inside of a cell even if convicted because the case is about to expire under a statute of limitations.

Sentencing guidelines in Italy are also very lenient for over-70s and the larger-than-life billionaire is 75 years old.

The trial, which has been going on for five years, revolves around the allegation that Berlusconi paid off his former British tax lawyer David Mills to provide false testimony in his favour in two trials in the 1990s.

The alleged bribe for the offshore tax expert was USD 600,000.

Mills was tried in absentia, convicted in February 2009 and sentenced to four and a half years in prison. The verdict was upheld later that year.

The case against Mills however expired in 2010, although judges stressed that they believed he was guilty of an act of "very serious" corruption.

Berlusconi has done everything to put off a verdict in the Mills case, including a last-minute appeal from his lawyers that the case be thrown out because the judges had refused to listen to all the defence witnesses.

The appeal was rejected but Berlusconi yesterday went back on the offensive.
"The Mills trial is just one of numerous invented proceedings against me. In total, more than 100 legal procedures, over 900 prosecutors have busied themselves with me and with my company," Berlusconi said in a statement.

"Two thousand six hundred hearings in 14 years, more than 400 million euros in fees for lawyers and consultants -- these are impressive records not just on a global level but on a universal level, on a solar system level," he said.

Berlusconi in particular criticised the prosecution's "incredible thesis" that the crime was committed not when the money was allegedly given to the lawyer but when the lawyer began spending it two years later.

This, he said, was done so as to ensure the case did not expire.