|Silvio Berlusconi resigned as prime minister in November after dominating Italian politics for 17 years [AFP]|
An Italian court has ended a corruption trial of Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, without a verdict, saying that the statute of limitations on the bribery charges has run out.
Judge Francesca Vitale ruled on Saturday that the case was no longer valid, after defence lawyers presented their final arguments.
Berlusconi, who has denied any wrongdoing, was not present in court as five-year trial was brought to an end.
Prosecutors had requested a five-year prison term for Berlusconi, who was accused of having paid off his former British tax lawyer David Mills to provide false testimony in his favour in two trials in the 1990s.
“The main fact is that he wasn’t cleared of the charges, and he was perhaps saved by reaching the statute of limitations,” Al Jazeera’s Claudio Lavanga, reporting from Rome, said.
“The ruling won’t have much impact on his political future because he has already said he won’t run again for prime minister. But it may have an impact on his media empire. We’ll see if the fact that he wasn’t acquitted will have an impact when the markets open on Monday.”
Mills was convicted in 2009 of taking a $600,000 bribe from Berlusconi, but the case against the lawyer was shelved the following year because the statute of limitations had run out. Mills was never extradited to serve his jail sentence.
Berlusconi resigned in November amid Italy’s debt crisis. His three stints as prime minister were tainted by corruption trials and accusations that he used his political power to help his business interests.
His last term was been marred by sex scandals, high-profile “bunga bunga” parties and criminal charges that he paid a 17-year-old girl to have sex, an accusations Berlusconi has denied.
Berlusconi has said the charges against him were politically motivated.
“The Mills trial is just one of numerous invented proceedings against me,” he said ahead of the latest court hearing. “In total, more than 100 legal procedures, over 900 prosecutors have busied themselves with me and with my company.”
“Two thousand six hundred hearings in 14 years, more than 400 million euros in fees for lawyers and consultants – these are impressive records not just on a global level but on a universal level, on a solar system level,” he said.