Berlusconi files motion to dismiss


Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's beleaguered former prime minister and one of Europe's wealthiest media tycoons, skipped his scheduled court date Tuesday after his lawyers filed a motion to have his corruption case dismissed.

Berlusconi has been dogged by legal troubles since first getting involved in politics in the early 1990s. But he has never been convicted of anything, and Tuesday's court date was to mark the first time the billionaire actually appeared inside a courtroom to answer charges.

Instead, his attorneys complained that judge Edoardo D'Avossa was not fit to oversee the trial since he has previously presided over three other trials related to Berlusconi that would taint his judgment in this case.

The court adjourned until Monday to consider the motion. But whatever the outcome, the trial is expected to last months or even years and will take place amid hearings on other more serious charges set to start next year.

Critics say that Berlusconi has avoided convictions in the past thanks to an adept, high-priced legal team and his political influence, which allowed him to shorten statute of limitations standards and reshape laws to decriminalize actions he was charged with. But Berlusconi's fortune took a turn for the worse in April when he was defeated in a re-election bid by former European Commission president Romano Prodi, who has promised that his chief rival will receive no favorable treatment.

For his part, Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing.

In the hours before Tuesday's court date, Berlusconi was in classic form, reportedly predicting to confidants that Prodi's government was on the verge of crumbling but warning that he had no interest in returning to power if that happens.

"The center-right will certainly return to power, but I can already tell you something," Berlusconi is quoted as saying in the local press. "Whenever that happens, I will not go back to Palazzo Chigi (the prime minister's office). I have already done my part. Enough for me."

After the adjournment, Berlusconi appeared to back away from the comments. "I have no intention of abandoning the responsibilities that voters have entrusted me," he said in a statement that his spokesman delivered to journalists.

With a series of court dates and charges looming, speculation about whether he will become prime minister again is among the least of Berlusconi's troubles.

This trial will look into charges that Berlusconi used the sale of two offshore television stations to illegally avoid paying millions in taxes. Other charges he will face in the coming months include false accounting, tax evasion and breaches of competition law. All of the significant charges against Berlusconi carry the risk of jail time.

A new charge may yet be added to Berlusconi's growing rap sheet. Vannino Chiti, Italy's minister for parliamentary relations, on Saturday claimed that Berlusconi had offered bribes to senators in order to block reforms that would make Berlusconi's defense more difficult.