Hospital stay delays trial for Berlusconi


The corruption trial of beleaguered former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been delayed until Friday, judges said Monday, after the 70-year-old media tycoon was told by his doctors that he will be kept in the hospital until at least Wednesday to monitor possible heart problems.

The long-awaited start to the case was scheduled for Monday after a motion to have the judge dismissed was denied last week.

The early stages of the trial will be largely technical — it will involve attorneys on both sides filing paperwork in a Milan courtroom — but on Monday it was overshadowed by Berlusconi's health problems. The flamboyant Berlusconi fainted at a weekend political rally and has been ordered to stay in the hospital for tests and monitoring.

On Monday, Berlusconi vowed to be out of the hospital in time to lead a rally against Prime Minister Romano Prodi on Saturday in Rome — but he did not mention his date in court. Prodi narrowly defeated Berlusconi to become Italy's head of government in April.

Though Berlusconi has been hounded by legal problems for years, he has yet to appear in court to answer charges.

The health troubles come at a tumultuous time for the billionaire media kingpin. The corruption trial appears to be the first of several that will involve him, and there is jockeying among the leaders in his coalition as to whether Berlusconi will continue to lead the opposition to Prodi's government.

Furthermore, Mediaset — the broadcasting giant Berlusconi controls — has seen advertising revenue and profits slide in recent months, and state broadcaster RAI ran a documentary Sunday night that alleges that Berlusconi attempted to rig April's vote in his favor. The program immediately sparked a criminal investigation and a flurry of press speculation.

But the health concerns remain the central story involving Berlusconi, who has made no secret of the fact that he has used a series of facelifts and hair transplants to look younger than his 70 years.

Berlusconi spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti downplayed the hospital stay via a statement, which read: "These are routine checks for someone who's had an irregular heartbeat, (but the) checks take time."

Still, Italians are concerned. Even Prodi sent Berlusconi a handwritten note wishing him a speedy recovery.

Once Berlusconi leaves the hospital, attention will return to the legal case, which also involves 13 other defendants, including David Mills, a London-based lawyer and ex-husband of British Culture Minister Tessa Jowell.