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Italy high court defends decision to move up Berlusconi's appeal date before statute expires

Italy's highest court has defended its decision to move former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's tax fraud appeal to the front of the line, saying it had to move quickly because the statute of limitations was about to expire.

Berlusconi's allies have threatened to paralyze parliament to protest the decision by the Court of Cassation to schedule the hearing July 30. It's a remarkably tight turnaround given it usually takes months to schedule such a hearing in Italy's notoriously slow justice system.

The stakes are high: Berlusconi risks being barred from holding public office for five years if his conviction is upheld. The case involves his Mediaset empire.

The Cassation said Wednesday it was only following the "absolutely normal practice" in scheduling the hearing before the statute of limitations expires Aug. 1.