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Berlusconi Off The Hook In Tax Evasion Trial

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

17 January 2007

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has had tax evasion and other charges against him dismissed by a judge in an Milan court because they have lapsed under the statute of limitations.

Judge Edoardo D'Avossa threw out charges of embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting against Berlusconi because the embezzlement charge related to events that took place before 1999, and the accounting fraud and tax fraud charges to incidents from before 1998.

In November 2006, Berlusconi's lawyers had attempted to delay the trial by requesting the removal of judge D'Avossa from the case because he has already presided over one of Berlusconi's numerous appearances in court. On that occasion, the former Prime Minister was acquitted of charges of false accounting.

The latest set of charges against the former Italian leader from transactions in which his television network Mediaset acquired US film rights through two offshore companies between 1994 and 1996, and allegedly artificially inflated the purchase price to avoid tax.

Notably, one of Berlusconi's co-defendants is British lawyer David Mills, the estranged husband of Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary in Tony Blair's cabinet. The prosecution alleges that Mills received US$600,000 from Berlusconi for giving false testimony in a 1997 trial in which Berlusconi was charged with bribing tax officials to give favourable tax audits of his media companies.

Charges against Mills of receiving stolen goods have been dropped under the statute of limitations, but the British lawyer still must defend allegations that he perverted the court of justice in a separate trial, due to begin in March.

Berlusconi, Italy's wealthiest individual, has always successfully defended himself against similar types of allegations in the past.

Conveniently, the statute of limitations was reduced to seven-and-a-half years in 2005 - just months before he was voted out of office in April 2006.

TAGS: Italy

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