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Italian judges reject Mills appeal

October 27, 2009

by Guy Dinmore in Rome, published: October 27 2009

Silvio Berlusconi’s battles with the courts took a fresh twist on Tuesday when Milan judges rejected an appeal made by David Mills, his former UK lawyer who was convicted earlier this year of accepting a bribe to help the Italian prime minister.

Mr Mills, who is married to Tessa Jowell, the UK Olympics minister, was given a four and a half year sentence last February for allegedly receiving $600,000 as payment for giving false testimony during two trials in the 1990s to protect Mr Berlusconi’s offshore business interests. Lawyers for Mr Mills, who had denied the charges, on Tuesday told reporters that their client would lodge a second and final appeal as permitted under Italian law.Alessio Lanzi, a defence lawyer, was quoted by reporters in Milan as saying it was hard to keep faith in the Italian justice system after their appeal was rejected. The judges had refused to accept new evidence or witnesses.

Mr Berlusconi, 73, had been originally a co-defendant in the case but the trial continued against Mr Mills alone last year after Italy’s parliament shielded the prime minister from prosecution. But his immunity was rejected this month by the Constitutional Court.

Judges in Milan are expected soon to set a date for the prime minister’s trial to start afresh. Mr Berlusconi, a billionaire media magnate, denies having bribed Mr Mills.

After losing his immunity this month, Mr Berlusconi relaunched his attacks against the judiciary, accusing judges of waging a politically motivated campaign against him. He says he intends to defend himself in court and on television.

A second corruption trial against Mr Berlusconi, which had also been suspended, is due to resume next month. The prime minister’s Mediaset company is accused of tax fraud and false accounting in its acquisition of US television and film rights. Mr Berlusconi denies the charges.

Commentators note that the cases against Mr Mills and Mr Berlusconi could run up against the statute of limitations unless the courts move fast.

Mr Mills had been a legal advisor on offshore issues in the 1990s to Mr Berlusconi when he was in the political opposition. Under investigation, Mr Mills had initially admitted that money he received was for helping keep Mr Berlusconi out of trouble. But he later withdrew that statement and said the money came from an Italian ship owner.

His defence lawyers had intended to argue during the appeal that the payment was made in 1996 and therefore any charges against Mr Mills would have fallen in prescription, in this case 10 years.

In convicting Mr Mills last year, the court did not explicitly state that the bribe came from Mr Berlusconi. Releasing its reasoning in May, the court said that a manager at Fininvest – Mr Berlusconi’s holding company – had acted “in the name of and for the account of Silvio Berlusconi” in making the payment to Mr Mills.

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