Certain Berlusconi charges dismissed

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ROME -- The judge that media kingpin Silvio Berlusconi wants thrown off his trial has dismissed some of the key charges against the former Italian premier, assuring that Berlusconi will face a smaller set of charges when the trial restarts.

Judge Edoardo D'Avossa on Monday dismissed charges of embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting in regard to Mediaset's acquisition of U.S. film rights. D'Avossa said the charges against the billionaire tycoon were too old to be considered.

It's not even a sure thing that D'Avossa will preside over the corruption trial when it restarts. Berlusconi's lawyers have filed to have D'Avossa removed from the trial because he had already ruled on previous cases involving Mediaset. The Supreme Court is considering the motion and has said it will issue its ruling Jan. 29.

If D'Avossa is removed, it will cause the fifth delay in the trial since November, creating the risk that -- like the charges the judge removed -- the statute of limitations could run out on some or all of the remaining charges.

Previously, the trial has been delayed because of health reasons, a lawyers' strike and an earlier motion to have D'Avossa ousted from the case.

In the past, Berlusconi's defense has sought to delay cases as much as possible, often until the statute of limitations run out. Though Berlusconi has been dogged by legal problems for more than a decade, he has never been convicted of any significant charge and he has always maintained his innocence.

Expert observers are undecided as to whether the latest development helps or hurts Berlusconi. Some fear this could be the first of several moves to remove old or outdated charges that could eventually leave the prosecution without a case. But other commentators say that D'Avossa could be removing the weakest aspects of the case so that what remains can be tried faster and more effectively.

D'Avossa also threw out charges against several of Berlusconi's co-defendants, including a charge of receiving stolen goods against David Mills, a London lawyer and the former husband of British Culture Minister Tessa Jowell.

The main allegation remains -- that Berlusconi paid Mills to lie for him in order to cover up millions in kickbacks involving film rights purchased by Mediaset.
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