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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 17:23 GMT
Berlusconi scores double victory
Left-wing deputies during the parliamentary debate
Opposition leaders have called for protests
The Italian Parliament has passed a law that enables defendants to have their trials switched to other cities if they have a "legitimate suspicion" that judges are biased against them.


What has disappointed me the most in my entire career is a legislator passing tailor-made laws

Milan Public Prosecutor Gerardo D'Ambrosio
Opposition politicians, who say the law is tailor-made to help Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi avoid trial on corruption charges, boycotted the vote, shouting "Thieves, thieves".

Earlier, a court acquitted Mr Berlusconi of involvement in the financially shady transfer of a player to his football club, AC Milan, because the case ran out of time under the statute of limitations.

The prime minister - one of Italy's richest tycoons - is currently a defendant in several corruption trials.

'Monstrosity'

His lawyers have said they will attempt to shift one case, relating to charges of false accounting and bribing judges, from Milan to another part of Italy.

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi says Milan judges are biased
Milan Public Prosecutor Gerardo D'Ambrosio described the law as "a monstrosity".

Opposition leaders have called for protests across the country later in the day to denounce the legislation.

Opponents of the bill have also appealed to President Azeglio Ciampi to refuse to sign the bill into law - but correspondents say it is very unlikely he will risk causing a constitutional crisis.

In the football transfer case, Mr Berlusconi - owner and president of AC Milan - was charged with falsifying accounts to conceal illegal payments allegedly made by the club during its 1992 purchase of Gigi Lentini from the Torino club in Turin.

According to the charges, AC Milan deposited 10 billion lire (5.1 million euros) in the Swiss bank account of Torino's president, Gianmauro Borsano.

The case ran out of time partly because Italy's recently downgraded false accountancy to a minor violation of the law - a misdemeanour - and reduced the amount of time magistrates have to investigate such cases.

'Witch hunt'

Mr Berlusconi's supporters say he is the victim of a political witch hunt orchestrated by Milan prosecutors, and that the "legitimate suspicion" law will help ensure that Italians receive a fair trial.

However, Italy top magistrates' body recently warned that it would undermine the fight against organised crime.

Correspondents say it is likely that more cases against Mr Berlusconi will run out of time if he succeeds in shifting them to new cities.

Critics say that another beneficiary of the new law will be one of Mr Berlusconi¿s closest associates, a wealthy lawyer and former defence minister, Cesare Previti, who is also being tried in Milan on charges of bribing judges.

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'There was uproar in the Italian parliament'

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Europe
14 Sep 02 | Europe
14 Jan 02 | Country profiles
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