View Full Version : World News for April 16th, 2004

16-04-04, 22:40
Italian PM again back on fraud trial
(Updated at 2100 PST)
ITALY: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has gone back on trial on corruption charges after an immunity law was rejected earlier this year.

The hearings in Milan resumed amid legal wrangling, as prosecutors accused the presiding judge of bias and called for his removal.

Mr Berlusconi allegedly tried to bribe judges to influence a business deal.

The charges are the most serious Mr Berlusconi has faced in nearly 10 years of investigations.

Prosecution lawyers requested that presiding judge Francesco Castellano step aside because of comments he made in a newspaper interview in 2002.

Mr Castellano was quoted by Il Giornale - owned by Mr Berlusconi's brother - as saying the case against the prime minister was no longer justified.

The lawyers said this indicated Mr Castellano was sympathetic to Mr Berlusconi, but the panel of three judges rejected the claim.

The panel is expected to take two months to wade through evidence collected over three years.
Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, Nicolo Gheddini, told the BBC he hoped the trial would be "wrapped up as
soon as possible".

"Seeing as the verdict will be positive, we're really not afraid," he said.

Prosecutors allege Mr Berlusconi, Italy's richest man, tried to scupper the takeover of state-owned food group SME by a rival firm in the 1980s, before he entered politics.

The prime minister firmly denies any wrongdoing in the case and says left-wing magistrates are trying to undermine him.

His trial was blocked in June last year after parliament passed government-backed legislation granting the prime minister and other top office holders immunity from prosecution.

Critics accused the government of introducing the immunity bill to save Mr Berlusconi from the embarrassing possibility of a conviction while Italy was chairing the presidency of the European Union.