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Statute of limitations clears Italy's Silvio Berlusconi of corruption charge
MILAN (AP) ' A Milan court has ruled that the statute of limitations has run out in a corruption case against Silvio Berlusconi, handing Italy's former prime minister another victory in a long string of judicial woes he has faced.
The billionaire media mogul wasn't in court Saturday afternoon when the court's three judges read out their verdict at the trial after about two hours of deliberation.
Berlusconi had denied any wrongdoing.
He was accused of paying a British lawyer David Mills $600,000 to lie during two 1990s trials to shield the politician and his Fininvest holding company from charges related to his business dealings.
Berlusconi's lawyers successfully argued that the case should be thrown out because the statute of limitation had run out.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
MILAN (AP) ' Silvio Berlusconi's corruption trial raced toward a verdict Saturday, but any decision was likely to be rendered moot because of the statute of limitations on the charge.
The former Italian prime minister is accused of paying a British lawyer David Mills $600,000 to lie during two 1990s trials to shield Berlusconi and his Fininvest holding company from charges related to the billionaire media mogul's business dealings.
The three-judge panel began its deliberations after Berlusconi's defense made its closing statements, arguing that Berlusconi should be cleared of corruption. A verdict was expected within hours.
Prosecutors have demanded a five-year sentence.
The court could decide to issue a ruling on the merits, or it could calculate that the statute of limitations on the charge has already expired, as the defense has argued, throwing out the case.
Berlusconi, 75, stepped down as premier in November after failing to come up with convincing reforms to help Italy exit from the sovereign debt crisis, was absent from the courtroom.
Berlusconi issued a statement Friday railing against magistrates for the "many trials" against him, and saying that he doesn't remember having met Mills.
"Mills was one of many lawyers abroad that occasionally worked for the Fininvest group. I don't recall ever having met him," Berlusconi said.
He added that Mills had received the $600,000 from an Italian arms dealer for some legal work and had made up the story that the money had been a gift from Fininvest employee, who had since died, to avoid paying a 50 percent tax on earnings.
By prosecutors' calculations, the statute of limitations on the case expires by July, but even that time frame would not allow for two levels of appeal required to finalize any verdict. The defense claims the statute of limitations has already expired.
The court will have to make its own calculations, and decide if it can still issue a finding in the initial trial.
The ongoing trial has been suspended many times due to Berlusconi's obligations as premier and during a period when parliament had granted him immunity, complicating the calculation. In Italy, the clock on the statute of limitations continues to tick even after a trial begins.
Mills was convicted in 2009 on bribery charges; the conviction was overturned by Italy's highest court after the statute of limitations expired.
The corruption trial is one of several Berlusconi is currently facing in Milan, including charges that he paid an underage Moroccan teenager to have sex with him, then used his influence to cover it up. Both he and the young woman deny the charges.
Both the corruption charge and the charge of using his influence to cover up a crime carry an additional penalty that would bar Berlusconi from again seeking public office, but that would only kick in if a guilty verdict is confirmed on the final appeal.
Berlusconi has faced dozens of trials in Milan, mostly for his business dealings. He has either been acquitted or seen the charges expire under the statute of limitations.