A Milan court on Saturday dismissed corruption charges against former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive], finding that the statute of limitations had expired. Berlusconi was on trial for allegedly bribing his British tax lawyer, David Mills, to lie when testifying about Berlusconi and his holding company Fininvest in two trials that took place in the 1990s. Berlusconi, who was in office during most of the five-year-long proceedings, has been accused by some critics of attempting to use the majority he had as Prime Minister to change the law in order to give himself immunity and avoid prosecution. Mills was found guilty in a separate trial of receiving money, but that case was dismissed in 2010 because the statute of limitations had also lapsed.
Berlusconi, who resigned as prime minister in November, has been a defendant in nearly 50 cases. Last week, prosecutors asked a court to try him on tax evasion charges [JURIST report]. He is also facing charges of publicly releasing private wiretaps, embezzlement, and paying for sex with an underage prostitute [JURIST reports]. In July, an Italian appeals court ordered Fininvest to pay €560 million in damages [JURIST report] and fees to Compagnie Industriali Riunite (CIR) Group. The complaint stemmed from Fininvest's 1991 acquisition of Italian publishing company Mondadori, during which Fininvest bribed a judge in exchange for favorable decisions. In January 2011 the Italian Constitutional Court held hearings and subsequently struck down [JURIST reports] portions of a immunity law backed by Berlusconi that would have granted the premier and other public officials temporary amnesty from any charges while holding office.