[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 18:52 GMT
Italy bid for PM corruption trial
Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi is fighting general elections in April
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the husband of a UK minister could face trial in Italy, following a request from prosecutors.

A judge has been asked to indict Mr Berlusconi and lawyer David Mills on corruption charges, say reports.

It is alleged Mr Mills - who is married to UK Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell - was paid a bribe by Mr Berlusconi after giving helpful testimony in two trials.

Both men deny the allegations, which come weeks before Italian elections.

One can only conclude that they want to interfere with the election campaign
Niccolo Ghedini
Berlusconi lawyer

In a second blow, Mr Berlusconi lost a member of his cabinet when Health Minister Francesco Storace announced his resignation on Friday.

Mr Storace has been accused of spying on opponents during a local election last year. He has denied any wrongdoing and says he wants to clear his name.

'False theories'

Investigating magistrates from Milan, who made the request for the indictment, are said to have rejected moves by Mr Berlusconi's lawyers that would have delayed demands for a trial until after the 9 April general election.

THE TRIALS OF BERLUSCONI
Silvio Berlusconi has been put on trial at least six times
Bribing financial police
Guilty on four counts; overturned on appeal
Illegal political financing
Guilty; acquitted on appeal as statute of limitations (SoL) expired
False accounting (Medusa Cinema)
Guilty; overturned on appeal
Tax fraud, false accounting (Macherio estates)
Acquitted/ SoL expired
False accounting (AC Milan transfer)
SoL expired
Bribing a judge
Case suspended when MPs backing Berlusconi grant him immunity from prosecution; Constitutional court throws law out, case resumes. Acquitted/ SoL expired

"One can only conclude that they want to interfere with the election campaign," Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, told the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper.

A spokesman for Mr Berlusconi said the corruption allegations were "false theories".

The request for charges follows an 18-month investigation.

Mr Mills, who was a lawyer for Mr Berlusconi in the 1990s, is said to have received a gift of $600,000 (344,000) from the Italian prime minister in 1997 as payment for not revealing details of the prime minister's media empire, Mediaset.

In a separate case, Mr Berlusconi, Mr Mills and 12 others are accused of tax fraud and embezzlement involving Mediaset. All the defendants deny the charges.

The Milan prosecutors hope to get a preliminary trial date in May.

Headlines

The BBC's Christian Fraser, outside the courthouse in Milan, says a blue trolley overflowing with thousands of documents was pushed to the office of senior judge Favio Paparella, housed on the seventh floor.

David Mills and Tessa Jowell
David Mills has split from his cabinet minister wife Tessa Jowell

He said the papers included a transcript of an interview Mr Mills gave to prosecutors in Milan in July 2004 - which he has since retracted - in which he admitted he had received money from Mr Berlusconi.

Prosecutors are said to be anxious to proceed with this case as soon as possible, as under the Italian statute of limitations they have just under two years to secure a verdict.

Our correspondent says there is no indication how long it will take the judge to read the documents, but there is a sense of expectation here that Mr Berlusconi is about to face trial again.

He adds that newspaper headlines about the affair have not done the prime minister any favours, especially when he is four points behind in opinion polls for the elections.

UK furore

Mr Berlusconi's rival is former president of the European Commission Romano Prodi, whose campaign has struggled for coverage as two of the three publicly-run television stations are run by Mr Berlusconi's supporters.

The Mills allegations have caused a political storm in the UK, raising questions about Ms Jowell's connection with her husband's finances.

She has denied any wrongdoing and was judged last week by Prime Minister Tony Blair not to have broken the UK ministers' code.

Mr Mills and Ms Jowell announced their separation at the weekend, with Mr Mills' lawyer blaming this on the furore over the payment - which Mr Mills says came from another client.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Berlusconi has time and the system on his side



SEE ALSO:
Mills hearing will not be delayed
09 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
In Full: David Mills' statement
04 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
A New Labour 'golden couple'
04 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
Minister's husband denies bribe
19 Feb 06 |  Europe


RELATED BBC LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific