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Europe

Court Quashes Berlusconi Corruption Charges

An Italian court on Friday dropped a key corruption charge against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after a four-year trial for bribing judges.

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Justice for Berlusconi?

In a two-part judgment read out to a packed courtroom by the court chairman Francesco Castellano, Berlusconi was cleared of corruption in blocking the sale of the SME food group to a rival in 1985 and given the statute of limitations on the charges of bribing judges, which date from 1991.

Prosecutors had demanded the court impose the maximum eight-year jails sentence for bribing judges to block a 1985 sale of state-owned food company SME to his rival Carlo De Benedetti.

Berlusconi's lawyer Gaetano Pecorella said he would appeal the statute of limitations ruling because it did not fully clear his client. "I'm sure the appeals court will clear him fully," Pecorella told AFP news agency.

A waste of time?

Ilda Boccassini Berlusconi Prozess in Mailand

Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini

"It's a verdict which is largely satisfactory, which brings to an end a 10-year case which has been shown to be substantially useless," another member of Berlusconi's legal team, Niccolo

Ghedini, said.

"It's a verdict which gives justice to Silvio Berlusconi. I hope it will help bring about a calmer and less confrontational climate between politics and the judiciary," said Deputy Prime Minister Marco Follini, a member of the Christian Democratic UDC party in Berlusconi's center-right coalition.

The statute of limitations was applied to the judge-bribing charges because the court decided to halve the period of the original statute of limitations from 15 years, in which event the 1991 date falls outside the ambit of the case.

Several of Berlusconi's co-accused, including his close confidant Cesare Previti and prominent judge Renato Squillante, received lengthy jail sentences in a separate trial last year, but have appealed. The trials were split so as not to interfere with Berlusoni's commitments as prime minister.

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