Berlusconi's allies move to shield him from trials

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 8:09 AM

Lawmakers allied with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will introduce a bill within days that could cut short his pending trials on tax fraud and corruption charges, one of the premier's most powerful backers in parliament said Tuesday.

The trials were set to resume this month after a law granting Berlusconi immunity from prosecution while in office was overturned in October. Berlusconi denies wrongdoing, saying that he is the victim of left-leaning prosecutors.

The premier's lawyers have been scrambling to come up with measures that might shield Berlusconi from the trials.

Berlusconi held talks Tuesday with Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of the lower house of parliament who has been at odds with the premier recently and expressed unease over measures that could shield him from the trials.

But after two hours of talks in Rome, the two seemed to have found common ground on a bill that could cap the length of Italy's three-stage trials, which are notoriously slow and can take years to wind through all their phases.

"We have discussed about the possibility of lawmakers presenting a bill ... to define a positive timeframe within which a trial in its three stages must take place," Fini said in an interview to Sky Italia after the talks. Fini said that the bill would likely be presented in coming days. Berlusconi said after the meeting that "all went well," without elaborating, Sky said.

In one of the pending trials, Berlusconi is accused of tax fraud in a case involving his broadcaster Mediaset's purchase of TV rights. The trial was set to resume in Milan Nov. 16, but the premier's lawyers are reportedly seeking to have that hearing postponed on grounds Berlusconi is busy with a global food summit in Rome.

The other trial involving corruption charges was scheduled for Nov. 27.