Berlusconi denounces judges as 'cancer' on the state
SILVIO Berlusconi attacked prosecutors yesterday as he appeared in court to face corruption charges.
The Italian prime minister (74) is facing four trials and was in court accused of paying British company lawyer David Mills $600,000 (€430,000) in return for favourable evidence at other hearings.
Mr Berlusconi told judges he had "never even met" Mr Mills, the estranged husband of the former British Labour Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell.
He said: "This is the worst (trial) of all, because there is no proof, or motive. This current case is paradoxical, ridiculous and surreal." He admitted that Mr Mills had worked for his Fininvest company but said they had never met.
Outside court, Mr Berlusconi said judges were a "cancer that had to be removed".
He said he was considering a commission to examine whether the prosecutors should face charges of "criminal conspiracy".
Mr Mills was convicted of perverting the course of justice two years ago, but the verdict was overturned by an appeal court ruling that the statute of limitations had been in force and that the bribe had been in 1999 and not 2000 as first argued.
The prime minister said that "there is something incredible about this whole trial".
Speaking during a pause in the hearing, Mr Berlusconi said accusations had been unfounded in more than 20 other cases brought against him over the years. "If this is not a cancer of democracy you are from another planet."
He faces two other trials for corruption and a fourth -- the most controversial -- for allegedly having sex with an underage belly dancer and then using his office to cover it up.
Mr Berlusconi denies all the charges and says Milan magistrates are politically biased leftists bent on destroying him. He has launched almost daily attacks against the magistrates but his cancer remark was one of the most extreme.
It was all the more surprising for having been made on a day of commemoration for 10 magistrates killed by leftist guerrillas during the so-called "Years of Lead" three decades ago.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano rushed to the defence of the magistrature, saying it had to be treated "with honour".
Outside the courthouse several demonstrators held up banners against the prime minister, reminding him of the day of commemoration.
A small group of Berlusconi supporters cheered him, joining in a shouting match with anti-Berlusconi protesters.
Local elections next weekend are seen as a litmus test for the strength of Italy's ruling centre-right, which some opinion polls say has been severely damaged by the "Rubygate" sex scandal and Mr Berlusconi's legal woes. (Daily Telegraph, London and Reuters)