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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 22:05 GMT
Court urged to acquit Berlusconi
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Prosecutors have urged judges to impose an eight-year jail sentence
Defence lawyers for billionaire Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have urged a court in Milan to acquit him of corruption charges.

Summing up his defence, one of Mr Berlusconi's lawyers warned handing down a guilty verdict would irrevocably tarnish the country's name.

The prime minister is accused of bribing judges to block the sale of a state-owned food company to a rival.

The prosecution has demanded an eight-year jail term for Mr Berlusconi.

He has always maintained his innocence, describing the trial as judicial persecution by left-wing magistrates.

Mr Berlusconi stands accused of corrupting judges in the 1980s to ensure that a state food conglomerate would not fall into the hands of a rival Italian industrialist.

Defence lawyer Gaetano Pecorella, also an MP in Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said a conviction would be a "tragedy".

"This sentence would change the history of our country. This trial has poisoned this country's political life for the past 10 years," he said.

Numerous investigations

A verdict is now expected before Christmas.

Mr Berlusconi, who has only attended court three times during the four-year legal process, does not face an immediate risk of jail as, under Italian law, two appeals are allowed before a sentence must be served.

The trial was suspended last summer after parliament passed a controversial law giving Mr Berlusconi immunity from prosecution.

The constitutional court later overturned the ruling.

Italians are now used to hearing about their prime minister's legal battles, correspondents say.

Since 1994, he has been investigated in numerous cases connected to his business empire.

But with this trial he has become the first sitting prime minister to be a defendant in a criminal case.

Although a number of cases have come to trial, in most Mr Berlusconi has escaped conviction, either being acquitted or having his convictions overturned on appeal.

Judges urged to jail Berlusconi
12 Nov 04 |  Europe
Italian PM attacks judiciary
30 Jan 03 |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
26 Mar 03 |  Country profiles

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