Court strips Italy's PM of immunity

ROME: Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday dealt a stinging blow to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi by throwing out a law shielding him from prosecution while in office.

The 15-member panel ruled that the law was unconstitutional, paving the way for two corruption trials to resume against the billionaire media tycoon.

The judges said the so-called Alfano law violated the constitutional guarantee of equality before the law.

Berlusconi is accused of paying his British former tax lawyer, David Mills, 600,000 dollars (400,000 euros) to give false evidence in two trials in the 1990s.

Mills was convicted in February of accepting the payment in a ruling that he is appealing.

Another pending case against Berlusconi involves allegations that his Mediaset television empire overcharged for broadcasting rights.

The Alfano law passed a few weeks after Berlusconi took power last year with a comfortable majority in parliament.

It shielded the holders of Italy's four top political jobs -- prime minister, president and the speakers of the two houses of parliament -- from prosecution while in office.

The 73-year-old media tycoon, already embroiled in a series of sex scandals, has vowed to see out his full five-year term.

Berlusconi's battles with the law have marked his public life since he burst onto the political scene in the mid-1990s.

He has faced charges including corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties.

Although some initial judgments have gone against the tycoon, he has never been definitively convicted.