A Milan court has quashed bribery charges against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after a four-year trial.
In a two-part judgement 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.
Berlusconi was triumphant after avoiding a jail sentence in his latest brush with the law, saying in Rome on Friday that the verdict was "better late than never".
"I was right to be calm because I knew fully well I had done nothing wrong," he said.
Prosecutors had demanded the court impose the maximum eight-year jail sentence for bribing judges to block a 1985 sale of state-owned food company SME to his rival Carlo De Benedetti, boss of Italian food giant Buitoni.
"I was right to be calm because I knew fully well I had done nothing wrong"
Italian prime minister
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 said.
"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
"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 Democrat UDC party in Berlusconi's centre-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 Berlusconi's commitments as prime minister.
Although the 68-year-old media magnate has faced a string of trials focusing on his business dealings, in most cases he has escaped conviction, either by being acquitted or having his
convictions overturned on appeal.