ROME – A court in Naples on Wednesday was deciding whether to convict former Premier Silvio Berlusconi on charges he bribed a senator to switch sides in Parliament, allegedly to hasten the demise of a coalition government led by chief political rival Romano Prodi.
A trial verdict could come later in the day.
Berlusconi won't go to prison if convicted because the statute of limitations in the corruption case will lapse in a few months, before appeals could be completed. In Italy, defendants don't start serving any sentence until two levels of appeals are exhausted, a process taking years.
During the trial, which began in February 2014, prosecutors alleged that a senator from a tiny center-left party backing Prodi was paid 3 million euros between 2006 and 2008 to switch loyalties to Berlusconi's center-right coalition. Berlusconi denies the charge.
Sergio De Gregorio acknowledged accepting the money while a senator for Italy of Values, a party headed by former anti-corruption prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro. De Gregorio's plea bargain brought him a 20-month sentence.
The defense contended there is no proof of a deal between De Gregorio and Berlusconi and that shifting alliances are a normal part of politics in Italy.
Prodi, a former European Union commission chief, was the only politician to defeat Berlusconi in elections for the premiership, in 1996 and 2006. Prodi's second government depended on a razor-thin majority in the Senate, and it collapsed in 2008 amid bickering among allies.
Prosecutors have alleged that a second defendant, Valter Lavitola, acted as a go-between between Berlusconi and De Gregorio.
The prosecution sought convictions and a five-year sentence for Berlusconi and a sentence of four years and four months for Lavitola.
Some other criminal cases against Berlusconi ended when statute of limitations expired.
Berlusconi recently completed several months of community service — assisting Alzheimer's patients in a residence near Milan — as his punishment for a tax fraud conviction stemming from dealings in his media empire. The conviction, which was upheld by Italy's top criminal court, cost him his Senate seat.
But he won appeals of a conviction on charges that he paid for sex with a minor and then used his premier's office to cover it up.
Other judicial woes could loom for Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party is in disarray after a string of electoral losses.
Milan prosecutors are investigating whether Berlusconi or his aides paid off witnesses or potential witnesses in the sex case, which stemmed from "bunga-bunga" parties with young starlets and aspiring show girls at soirees at the billionaire's private residences.