Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

US Senator Stevens found guilty

Ted Stevens outside federal court on 24 Sep

The longest-serving Republican in the US Senate has been found guilty of lying about gifts worth $250,000 he received from an oil company.

Ted Stevens, 84, was charged with seven counts in connection with the gifts.

Mr Stevens faces up to five years in prison on each count but, under federal guidelines, is unlikely to spend much time in prison.

He is fighting a tough re-election battle against Democrat Mark Begich for his Alaskan Senate seat.

A victory for the Democrats in that race could help them towards winning 60 Senate seats, enough to hold a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber.

"I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have," Mr Stevens said.

He has been one of the most influential senators in Washington.

Until the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, he was chair of the Appropriations Committee, in charge of billions of dollars in the federal budget.

Bribery charges

During the trial, prosecutors gave details of the items given to Mr Stevens by the oil firm, Veco, including a massage chair, rope lighting, furniture, a gas grill and a fully stocked tool chest.

Veco also provided contractors to carry out home renovations at Mr Stevens's cabin in Girdwood, Alaska.

Bill Allen, Veco's founder, pleaded guilty to bribery charges in May 2007.

Testifying to the court, Mr Stevens claimed that he had paid Mr Allen $160,000 for the work done, and had been under the impression that no more money was required.

And he had considered many of the gifts as loans - including the massage chair.

Prosecutor Joseph Bottini, in his closing argument, poured scorn on Mr Stevens's testimony.

"Does anybody really believe that the defendant really can't get Bill Allen to stop giving him all this free stuff?" he asked.

"Does anyone really believe he thought that [massage] chair was a loan? It's been in his house for seven years."

Polls suggest Mr Stevens is currently neck and neck with his Democratic rival in his bid for re-election, but correspondents say a guilty verdict in the trial will certainly damage his chances of victory.

Despite the guilty verdict, he is not required by law to drop out of the election or give up his seat.

There is no formal rule barring felons from serving in Congress, so if he wins he could stay in the Senate, unless his fellow senators vote to expel him by a two-thirds vote.

In recent years, Senators convicted of bribery and corruption have resigned rather than face an expulsion hearing.

Mr Stevens famously allocated $200m to build to "bridge to nowhere" connecting two islands in his home state of Alaska, a project that was ultimately dropped.

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Alaska senator charged over gifts
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