Page last updated at 20:02 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

David Mills bribery conviction quashed by appeals court

David  Mills arriving at his former home in 2006
David Mills had denied taking a bribe from Silvio Berlusconi

British tax lawyer David Mills has had a bribery conviction quashed by Italy's highest court.

The Court of Cassation judge said the current trial was beyond the limit for prosecution set by Italian law.

The estranged husband of UK minister Tessa Jowell denied the offence but was convicted in 2009 of taking £400,000 from Italy PM Silvio Berlusconi.

The ruling means a parallel corruption case against Mr Berlusconi could also now be dropped.

In a separate trial, Mr Berlusconi denies allegations of corrupting Mr Mills.

Tax haven

Mr Mills, who was facing, four-and-a-half years in jail, was convicted in February last year.

The decision to overturn the verdict comes after a Milan court rejected an earlier appeal in October against the conviction.

But no action was taken on an order, in an associated civil case, that Mr Mills should pay 250,000 euros (£222,000) to the Italian government for damage to its image.

Mr Mills, 65, who separated from former UK Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell in 2006, was one of Mr Berlusconi's consultants on offshore tax havens.

After the successful appeal ruling, the Briton's lawyer said: "We are satisfied. This is a decision that recasts the verdict issued by the Milan appeals court."

In a statement, Mr Mills said he would now be able to "get back to a normal life".

"I am very relieved that this saga has finally now come to an end," he said.

"I am grateful beyond words to my family and friends who knew I was innocent and have supported me all the way through and to my wonderful lawyer."

The prosecution had alleged Mr Berlusconi had paid Mr Mills for not revealing details of offshore companies during two previous trials in 1997 and 1998, in which the lawyer had appeared as an expert witness for the prime minister.

The charges stemmed from a letter Mr Mills sent to a British accountant in 2004, in which he said the £400,000 payment had come from "Mr B".

The alleged offence was said to have taken place in November 1999.

Mr Mills initially admitted having received money from Mr Berlusconi "in recognition" of the evidence he had given, but later said the money had come from Italian shipping magnate Diego Attanasio.

Prosecutor Gianfranco Ciani maintained Mr Mills had taken the bribe, but said the conviction should be overturned because the statute of limitations had expired.

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