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Mills awaits ruling in Berlusconi bribery case

February 25, 2010

David Mills, former UK lawyer for Silvio Berlusconi, was waiting on Thursday night for Italy’s top appeals court to rule whether he would serve a jail sentence for his conviction last year on charges of accepting a $600,000 bribe from the billionaire prime minister in the late 1990s.

But in a surprise development that could also benefit Mr Berlusconi in his separate trial, the prosecutor for the Cassation Court asked for the case against Mr Mills to be dropped, arguing that it had been timed out under the statute of limitations.

Italian media reported the court’s bench of nine judges was expected to give its ruling late on Thursday.

Mr Mills was convicted by a Milan court a year ago on charges of giving false testimony to protect Mr Berlusconi’s business empire during trials in 1998. Mr Mills, estranged husband of Tessa Jowell, UK minister for the Olympics, was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in jail and ordered to pay 250,000 euros in damages to the state.

Mr Mills lost his first appeal last October and launched a second and final appeal to the Cassation Court. He did not appear in court on Thursday.

Arguments in the Rome court revolved around procedural issues related to the statute of limitations.

Gianfranco Ciani, prosecutor, did not seek to exonerate Mr Mills but he dated the crime to 1999 when Mr Mills was told by a manager of Mr Berlusconi’s Fininvest holding company that the funds were at his disposal. Under such a scenario the case against Mr Mills would expire under the statute of limitations.

Mr Mills and Mr Berlusconi both denied the charges. The trial against Mr Berlusconi, who had originally been a co-defendant, was suspended in 2008 when parliament gave the prime minister immunity from prosecution.

The Constitutional Court revoked his immunity last October, paving the way for two cases against Mr Berlusconi to resume. Should the case be dropped against Mr Mills then, according to legal commentators, there would probably be insufficient time for the case against the prime minister to conclude.

Mr Berlusconi has accused elements of the judiciary of being part of a left-wing conspiracy to bring down his government. Several pieces of legislation are at various stages of discussion in parliament that would shield him from further prosecution.

Lawyers for Mr Mills previously argued that the the money he allegedly received from Mr Berlusconi in fact came from Diego Attanasio, a ship owner and client, who had no connection with the media magnate.

However Mr Mills had earlier written a letter to his tax accountant, saying the money had come from the “B people” and he was told “around the end of 1999” that he would receive it. Mr Mills described in the letter how “I told no lies but I turned some very tricky corners to put it mildly” and that his evidence in court “had kept Mr B out of great deal of trouble that I would have landed him in if I had said all I knew”.

Extracts from that letter were read out in the Rome court on Thursday.

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