Italian Prosecutors Seek PM's Indictment for Bribery

Italian magistrates have finished an investigation into whether Premier Silvio Berlusconi bribed a lawyer to give false testimony and plan to seek his indictment on corruption charges, a prosecutor said Friday.

Milan Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale said the prosecution rushed to wrap up the investigation and bring the case to trial after parliament reduced the statute of limitations on the charges.

If no new evidence is raised during a 20-day period in which defense lawyers can make objections, the prosecution will ask a judge to indict the premier, De Pasquale told The Associated Press by telephone.

Berlusconi declined to comment on the case during a press conference in Rome, but his lawyer said the probe had been timed to hurt the premier ahead of April elections.

"Every time there are elections, the Milan prosecutors' office gets moving and produces something for us," lawyer Niccolo Ghedini was quoted as saying by the news agency Apcom.

De Pasquale denied the timing was intended to coincide with the campaign, saying that based on the reform, the charges against Berlusconi would run out after 10 years instead of 15, in 2008. "The prosecution needs the trial to start as soon as possible," he said.

The premier is accused of ordering the payment of at least $600,000 to the British lawyer David Mills in 1997 to give false testimony in two trials against him.

Mills is married to British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, is also under investigation. Both Berlusconi and Mills have denied the prosecutors' allegations.

De Pasquale said Mills is accused of giving false testimony in two hearings in 1997 and 1998.

Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman who was first elected premier in 1994, has said the allegations are part of a campaign orchestrated against him by left-leaning magistrates in Milan, where the premier has a long history of legal troubles linked to his business interests based in the northern city.

In other cases, he has either been acquitted or the charges have been dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. He has always maintained his innocence.