Italian court rules Berlusconi will stand trial


ROME -- An Italian court ruled late Wednesday that controversial media kingpin and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will stand trial for corruption as planned, sparking a flurry of speculation in the Italian media about how the case might play out.

The case started Tuesday but was halted as Berlusconi's lawyers filed a motion to have judge Edoardo D'Avossa removed from the case on the grounds that he has presided over three previous trials related to Berlusconi's Mediaset network and that the judge could not be objective about the latest case.

The decision about whether or not to allow D'Avossa to continue was expected Monday, and the quicker-than-expected result was interpreted by the Italian media as meaning the courts were eager to pursue Berlusconi, who has been dogged by legal problems for years but never convicted.

Italian newspapers carried the story on their front pages Thursday, with the left wing daily L'Unita declaring, "This time it's real." Other newspapers ran similar stories, making reference to Berlusconi often escaping convictions in the past due to legal maneuverings that often delayed a verdict until the statute of limitations expired.

That is unlikely now. The case could restart as soon as Monday.

The trial is to look into charges that Berlusconi used the sale of two offshore television stations to illegally avoid paying millions in taxes and then paid witnesses to cover his tracks.

Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing in the case, saying that the charges against him were politically motivated moves from Italian Premier Romano Prodi, Berlusconi's chief political rival. Prodi has declined to comment on the case in recent weeks.