Bias charges won't stop Berlusconi trial: Judge

The 71-year-old prime minister is charged with paying Mills $600,000 in 1997, from alleged "secret funds" held by his media empire Mediaset, to withhold incriminating details of his business dealings.

Bias charges won't stop Berlusconi trial: Judge
A corruption trial against Silvio Berlusconi and British lawyer David Mills will go ahead in July despite the Italian premier's attempts to have it stopped by accusing the court of bias, the judge said on Friday.

The 71-year-old prime minister is charged with paying Mills $600,000 in 1997, from alleged "secret funds" held by his media empire Mediaset, to withhold incriminating details of his business dealings. Both of them deny any wrongdoing.

Berlusconi's lawyers asked this week to have the presiding Milan judge, Nicoletta Gandus, removed. Berlusconi said the court was "politicised and has rolled over and accepted the prosecution's arguments".

But Gandus said on Friday the "the removal request does not stop the hearings from going ahead". The next hearing is due on July 7, with two further hearings that month. An appeals court will also hear the motion for the judge's removal next month.

Critics of the conservative premier say he has also tried to hold up the trial via a so-called "premier-saving" law approved by the Senate this week and now due for lower house scrutiny.

Berlusconi loyalists have introduced an amendment to a crime-fighting bill that would prioritise trials for violent crimes and Mafia cases and suspend for one year all trials for lesser offences, and most white-collar crimes, that took place before mid-2002.

The Berlusconi-Mills case would have expired earlier this year under the statute of limitations, but in January a Milan court effectively extended the deadline for two years.

Berlusconi angrily rejected the notion that he was using parliament to pass laws to protect himself.

"It is not a premier-saving rule and such comments make me indignant," Berlusconi told reporters in Brussels, adding that next week he will "denounce the situation of the Italian magistrates" who "infiltrate the courts to subvert democracy".

Reuters
Last Mod: 20 Haziran 2008, 18:12
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