David Mills sentenced in bribe case

Received cash from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

ROME -- British attorney David Mills was sentenced on Tuesday to 4 1/2 years in prison for accepting at least $600,000 in bribes from media tycoon and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi more than a decade ago.

The case, which accused Mills of accepting bribes in return for lying to help cover up a system of bogus royalties for the Berlusconi-controlled broadcaster Mediaset, was delayed five times before the final verdict was reached.

Although the guilty verdict against Mills implies that Berlusconi was also guilty of wrongdoing for paying the bribes, Berlusconi himself cannot be tried, at least for the time being.

Last year -- while the case against Mills was making its way through Italian courts -- the Italian government passed a law giving the prime minister and a handful of other ranking government figures immunity against criminal or civil prosecution.

Italian courts are studying whether the immunity law is unconstitutional. If the law is overturned by February 2010, Berlusconi could be tried on the bribery charges. After that, it will be too late: The statute of limitations will have expired.

Mills' prison term of four years and six months is just two months short of the term prosecutors said they would ask for. The former husband of British Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, was also ordered to pay a fine of 250,000 euros ($325,000).

Berlusconi has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in connection with the case. Mills, meanwhile, has vowed to appeal the decision.