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ROME – The main bribery and corruption trial against Italian media kingpin and former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, will likely be dropped this week, legal experts said, after the key witness admitted to lying and has claimed his health is too poor for him to appear in court.
The case revolves around charges that Berlusconi paid British attorney David Mills $600,000 in return for lying in court on Berlusconi’s behalf. But in December, Mills said he lied about the bribe in order to avoid paying taxes on the money.
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Up until then, the case was one of the most puzzling in Italy because a court found Mills guilty of accepting a bribe from Berlusconi, while evidence was ruled inconclusive regarding whether or not Berlusconi was guilty of paying the bribe to Mills.
“I want to stress the complete innocence of Mr. Berlusconi, who has absolutely nothing to do with this $600,000,” Italian newspapers quoted Mills as saying via satellite hookup in the court in December, where Berlusconi looked on approvingly. The alleged bribe was connected to a 1990s trial charging Berlusconi’s film distribution arm, Medusa, with financial wrongdoing in a deal related to the acquisition of U.S. film rights.
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Berlusconi critics charge that the former prime minister may have influenced Mills to make his admission in December, and the judge in the case ordered that Mills had to appear in court personally in Monday’s hearing before the charges could be dropped. But Milles was a no-show, and his lawyers said Tuesday the attorney is too ill to travel.
There is speculation that Mills might be trying to avoid traveling to Italy because he could be detained on new charges related to his changed testimony. Italian magistrates have ordered Mills take a medical examine in order to determine whether his health really is poor enough to prevent him from traveling.
But even if Mills is ruled fit to travel, a determination that could take at least a week to make, time is running out on the case: the statute of limitations is set to expire Feb. 13, prompting legal experts to say that even if Milles travels to the Italy and the case resumes, it will be nearly impossible for judges to reach a verdict before the statute of limitations expires.
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