Verdict due in Berlusconi bribery trial

Silvio Berlusconi (file image) Image copyright AP
Image caption Silvio Berlusconi says the charges against him are politically motivated

An Italian court is due to reach a verdict in a trial in which former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is accused of bribing a British lawyer.

Prosecutors are pressing for a five-year jail sentence.

However, correspondents say the case has run on for so long that Mr Berlusconi is unlikely to go to jail even if found guilty.

He is on trial separately on charges of tax fraud and sex with an underage prostitute.

In Saturday's hearing, judges in Milan will retire to consider the verdict after the defence makes its final arguments.

Mr Berlusconi, 75, stands accused of bribing his former tax lawyer, David Mills, in the 1990s.

The prosecution alleges that Mr Mills was given $600,000 (£382,000) to lie in court about Mr Berlusconi's business interests.

Mr Mills - who is not on trial - denies that any such payment was made.

In December he told a court he was "deeply ashamed" for falsely claiming that Mr Berlusconi had given him $600,000.

Mr Mills said the money had actually come from an associate he had not wanted to admit dealing with.

Mr Berlusconi says prosecutors are pursuing a political vendetta against him.

"The Mills trial is just one of numerous invented proceedings against me," Mr Berlusconi said in a recent statement.

"In total, more than 100 legal procedures, over 900 prosecutors have busied themselves with me and with my company."

Statute of limitations

The prosecution says Mr Berlusconi's defence has been based on fabricated documents.

But the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome says if the former prime minister is found guilty there is no real possibility that he will end up behind bars.

He would have a right to appeal and the case would very soon run out of time under Italy's statute of limitations.

One possible outcome of Saturday's hearing is that the court could rule that the case has indeed expired and the charges would be quashed, our correspondent adds.

Mr Mills, the estranged husband of former UK cabinet minister Tessa Jowell, was convicted of perjury in his absence in February 2009.

But a year later he was acquitted by the Italian Supreme Court under the statute of limitations.

More on this story