Berlusconi trial hits pause button
EmptyROME -- The graft and corruption trial of Silvio Berlusconi was postponed indefinitely Monday in order to allow the billionaire media tycoon to concentrate on his campaign for a fourth term as Italy's prime minister.
The delay is the fifth in the trial that will determine whether Berlusconi used illegal means to pay for content on the three television networks operated by broadcast giant Mediaset, which Berlusconi controls. A request for a similar delay in a related trial that sees Berlusconi accused of paying London lawyer David Mills about $600,000 to lie about the first case is still pending.
Two previous delays were to entertain motions to have a judge removed, another because Berlusconi was in hospital and another because of a lawyers' strike.
The latest delay was met with enthusiasm by Mediaset investors, who sent the shares 2.4% higher in very heavy trading Monday, a strong performance compared with the Italian Stock Exchange's media index, which dipped 0.2%.
But the development is sure to give fuel to Berlusconi's political opponents, who charge that he is seeking a return to the prime minister's job in order to sidestep his legal issues and help boost the prospects for Mediaset, which struggled during Berlusconi's 20 months out of power.
The delay granted by the Milan-based district court was not all good news for Berlusconi, who has sidestepped many legal problems in the past by delaying until the statute of limitations ran out -- something that would happen in early 2009 in this case. But the court froze the statute of limitations on the two pending cases.
The news comes as polls show Berlusconi's lead over center-left candidate Walter Veltroni -- the former mayor of Rome and the founder of the 3-year-old RomaCinemaFest -- shrinking dramatically. When the candidates first announced their intention to run for office, most polls gave Berlusconi a lead of 12%-16% over the less-well-known Veltroni. But two polls released Monday showed Berlusconi's lead had shrunk to less than seven points.