Team Berlusconi scores in graft case

Motion to dismiss judge approved

TAORMINA, Italy -- The graft and corruption trial of Silvio Berlusconi looks increasingly unlikely to land the media tycoon and prime minister in jail now that a motion to have the judge on the case dismissed seems likely to extend the case beyond its statute of limitations.

Thursday's motion capped a series of events related to the case alleging Berlusconi paid a British lawyer $600,000 to lie for him in court. Earlier, the statute of limitations on graft cases was shortened to 10 years, and then parliament passed a decree calling for a one-year moratorium on nonviolent cases filed before 2002, two years after the Berlusconi and Mills case was first filed.

Opposition lawmakers started mounting an appeal of the parliamentary ruling for the Berlusconi-Mills case. But then Berlusconi's lawyers declared Nicoletta Gandus too subjective because she had previously owned Mediaset shares. Though legal commentators said it was unlikely that Gandus would be thrown off the case, the arguments had enough merit to be considered, a process that takes several months.

That consideration means that, even if the moratorium is suspended, a higher court will have to decide on Gandus' merits before the trial can resume.