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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 22:49 GMT 23:49 UK
Berlusconi ally jailed for bribery
Cesare Previti
Previti is likely to appeal

Italian judges have sentenced Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's former personal lawyer to 11 years in prison on corruption charges.

Cesare Previti, 68, defence chief in Mr Berlusconi's 1994 government, is accused of trying to influence two takeover battles.

He has been found guilty of trying to bribe a judge during one of the battles to favour Mr Berlusconi's Fininvest holding company.

The verdict - reached after eight hours of deliberation - was greeted with lengthy applause, according to Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.

"It's a profoundly unjust verdict even thought we were expecting it," one of Previti's lawyers Giorgio Perroni reportedly said.

A spokesman for Mr Berlusconi's party Forza Italia - which Previti works for as a lawmaker - described the sentence as "another foul day for Italian justice".

"Little by little, verdict after verdict, the citizens' trust in justice is vanishing," the spokesman Sandro Bondi said, Ansa news agency reported.

Mr Berlusconi was originally charged in the same case - dating back to a 1991 struggle for control of the Mondadori publishing company - but he was acquitted under Italy's statute of limitations in 2000.

The other case, known by the initials IMI-SIR, has no connection with Mr Berlusconi's businesses.

Legal battles

Previti has lodged seven legal challenges.

One his lawyers reportedly indicated he is likely to appeal against the sentence passed by a Milan court.

Previti has claimed that the Milan courts are biased against him. He sought unsuccessfully to have the cases moved to Perugia under a controversial law passed in November last year.

The ruling on Tuesday evening is likely to embarrass Mr Berlusconi.

"In theory it should be devastating for Berlusconi since he was part of both deals," James Walston, a politics professor at the American University of Rome told Reuters news agency.

"But in practice it's less serious, because they have prepared the ground so well, saying that it's all a put-up job."

Previti has other legal problems. He is a co-defendant with Mr Berlusconi in another corruption trial in Milan concerning a struggle for control of the SME state-owned food company.

A verdict in that trial is expected in the summer.

The BBC's David Willey reports from Rome
"Court was packed for the verdict"


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