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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 11:38 GMT
Berlusconi back in dock in Italy
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Silvio Berlusconi
The two defendants are planning to call 83 witnesses
A court in Milan has begun the trial of former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi and British lawyer David Mills for perverting the course of justice.

Mr Berlusconi is alleged to have paid Mr Mills $600,000 (310,500) as a reward for giving favourable testimony in two previous corruption trials.

The two face prison terms of between four and 12 years if convicted.

Both men deny the charges and neither was present for the opening of the trial.

For the prosecution this trial is a race against time.

Before losing power, Silvio Berlusconi's government reduced the statute of limitations for perverting the course of justice from 15 to 10 years.

And since this offence is alleged to have taken place in February 1998, the prosecution has little over 10 months to get a result.

'Extremely complex'

Already the lawyers representing Mr Berlusconi and his former lawyer, David Mills, have been accused of delaying tactics by calling 83 witnesses.

That is likely to mean the trial will run out of time. Federico Ciconi, Mr Mills's lawyer, denied there was an attempt to slow the proceedings.

"We either do this trial properly," he said, "or we don't do it at all."

It promises to be an extremely complex trial involving offshore companies, international bank accounts and substantial money transfers.

The prosecution alleged that $600,000 which appeared in a trust fund managed by Mr Mills was sent by Silvio Berlusconi as "a thank you" for evidence Mr Mills gave in two previous trials.

The prosecution says the money was used to pay off a mortgage taken out in joint names by Mr Mills and his estranged wife, the UK Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, on their London home.

The witnesses to be called in the trial include bankers, fund managers and officers of London's Metropolitan Police Force, who last year seized computers owned by Mr Mills.

The trial is being heard by three judges in Milan's central court. Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mills both deny the charges.

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