New charges for Berlusconi in Milan

Prosecutors in Milan have placed Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi under investigation for allegedly bribing a lawyer to give false testimony in cases against him, lawyers said Thursday. Berlusconi's attorney denied the accusations, and charged that they had been made public to damage the premier ahead of national elections next April.

Newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that prosecutors accused Berlusconi of ordering the payment of at least US$600,000 to British lawyer David Mills in 1997 to give false testimony in two trials against the premier. Mills' lawyer, Federico Cecconi confirmed the report in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. He said prosecutors were investigating Berlusconi and Mills on charges of corruption and providing false testimony. Mills is married to British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

"We reserve the right to reject these accusations at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way," Cecconi said. In a detailed statement, Berlusconi lawyer Niccolo Ghedini denied any payment had been made. Ghedini, who is also a deputy for Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said Mills had been a key prosecution witness whose statements against Berlusconi in one of the trials in question had been "decidedly unfavorable."

He accused Corriere della Sera, a moderate daily that is Italy's best-selling broadsheet, of publishing details of the investigation that should have been kept secret, and said it had done so to coincide with "delicate moments in the life of the country." General elections pitting Berlusconi against former Premier Romano Prodi are set for April 9.

Berlusconi was elected in 2001, and also served a brief term as premier in 1994. He has been plagued by legal woes since he entered politics and has contended he is the victim of a campaign by left-leaning magistrates. Cecconi said Berlusconi and Mills had declined to attend a questioning session with Milan prosecutors earlier this month because they first wanted more information about the accusations, reports the AP. N.U.

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