Berlusconi off the hook in SME case

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ROME -- Italy's beleaguered three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi got a break Friday as Italy's Supreme Court threw out charges that he bribed judges in a three-year-old case involving state-owned food company SME.

The Mediaset mogul is still standing trial on charges that he paid British lawyer David Mills to lie for him in a case related to film rights, but the Supreme Court's ruling on the SME case represents a bit of good news for Berlusconi and his allies.

The SME case -- which alleges that Berlusconi outmaneuvered media powerbroker Carlo De Benedetti for control of the food company by using judicial bribes -- was originally tried in 2004. Berlusconi was absolved of guilt in the case, but it was reopened in March based on evidence that Berlusconi may have illegally influenced judges.

If found guilty of the bribery charges, Berlusconi would have faced up to five years in jail. But the Supreme Court threw the case out, saying the evidence was too flimsy or too old.

The SME case was always considered the weaker of the two active cases against Berlusconi, but it was considered significant because it forced the tycoon to split his legal resources.

The corruption trial is expected to restart in November.
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