Berlusconi's trial resumes in Italy

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2009 8:28 AM

The trial of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on a tax fraud charge reopened Monday after a year, but was immediately adjourned until January to allow the premier to attend.

The premier was busy with a global food summit in Rome and did not attend the hearing in a Milan courtroom. His lawyers said Berlusconi is unavailable for the trial due to his engagements as premier until Jan. 18.

Berlusconi has declared his intention to attend the trial since Italy's highest court last month threw out as unconstitutional an immunity law shielding Berlusconi and other top officials from trial while in office.

"On the 18th, if there are witnesses or defendants or something substantial, (Berlusconi) will be there," defense lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said. "And if not, he will send his defense lawyers and we won't ask for delays for official business."

Ghedini is spearheading legislation that would cap the length of certain trials to six years, which if successful is widely expected to shut down the Mediaset trial and one other awaiting Berlusconi in Milan.

Berlusconi is accused of tax fraud involving his broadcaster Mediaset's purchase of TV rights. He denies wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of politically motivated magistrates.

Prosecutors allege that the dozen defendants, including Mediaset officials and British lawyer David Mills, paid inflated prices for TV rights for U.S. movies, then pocketed the difference amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Other charges of false accounting and false statements in financial reports were thrown out because the statute of limitations expired.

Ghedini said the trial would take at least two years to conclude, giving ample time to complete reach a verdict before the statute of limitations kick in in 2013.

Another trial where Berlusconi figures as a defendant is scheduled to resume Nov. 27. In that case, Berlusconi is charged with corruption for allegedly paying $600,000 to Mills to lie in court to protect the media mogul in two separate trials.