Berlusconi trial delayed yet again


ROME -- The corruption trial of billionaire media mogul and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was delayed Thursday for the fourth time since November as Italy's highest court agreed to hear a motion that Judge Edoardo D'Avossa be removed from the case because of a potential conflict of interest.

The court said Thursday that it will rule on whether D'Avossa should be removed no later than Jan. 29. A new trial date will be set after that, depending on whether D'Avossa will remain involved or whether a new judge will have to be appointed.

After three previous delays, the trial had been scheduled to open Friday.

The first delay came after Berlusconi's lawyers filed a motion in a regional court to have D'Avossa withdrawn. That motion was denied and, if the Supreme Court upholds the regional court's ruling, may not be appealed again.

Other delays came after Berlusconi was admitted to hospital after fainting during a rally in November, and when a strike by Italy's lawyers coincided with a December court date.

The motion to have D'Avossa removed stems from the fact that the judge has officiated previous trials involving Berlusconi-controlled broadcast giant Mediaset.

In the past, Berlusconi's defense has sought to delay cases as much as possible, often until the statute of limitations has 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 has always maintained his innocence.

In this trial, Berlusconi faces charges that he paid British lawyer David Mills to lie for him and that he used illegal accounting methods to pocket millions in royalties for films Mediaset owned the rights to.

Berlusconi was Italy's prime minister for nearly five years until a razor-thin defeat at the hands of Romano Prodi in April. Since then, the 70-year-old tycoon has been a vocal critic of Prodi's government.