Too busy dealing with Libya crisis to attend trial

Silvio Berlusconi was on Monday unable to attend a hearing in his corruption trial in Milan due to an Italian government cabinet meeting on the conflict in Libya, the premier's lawyers said.

Lawyer Niccolo Ghedini submitted to magistrates a letter written by Berlusconi in which the premier explained the reason for his absence while also requesting that the hearing should, nevertheless, be held.

The case sees media-magnate Berlusconi accused of paying british lawyer David Mills $600,000 dollars to provide false evidence in two other corruption trials that took place in the 1990s.

Mills, who was tried separately, had his four-and-a-half prison sentence overturned on appeal - on statute of limitations grounds - in February 2010.

Both Berlusconi and Mills deny any wrongdoing.

Earlier this month judges in Milan agreed to accommodate Berlusconi's busy political schedule, by setting aside Monday hearings in March, April, May, June and July - dates in which his lawyers had said the premier would be able to attend in person.

The trial, like two other proceedings against Berlusconi that also involve his business interests, was suspended last year following a law introduced by Italy's governing conservatives allowing the premier to skip court appearances on account of his government duties.

However, in January, Italy's constitutional court in part invalidated the so-called 'legitimate impediment' clause, paving the way for the resumption of all three trials.

Berlusconi, who says politically-motivated leftist magistrates are out to destroy him, is set to face what is regarded as his toughest battle with the judiciary in a separate trial scheduled to open on April 6 - a Wednesday.

In it, the 74-year-old prime minister stands accused of paying Moroccan go-go dancer Karima El Mahroug for sex in 2010, when she was 17 years old.

The same case also has the premier charged with abusing the powers of his office by intervening on El Mahroug's behalf when she was briefly held by police on suspicion of theft.

Berlusconi has denied having had sex with El Mahroug and has said that he was acting in 'good faith' when he claimed to police that she was former egyptian president Hosny Mubarak's niece and that they should release her to avoid a diplomatic incident.

(Published by m&c - March 21, 2011)

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