Berlusconi fraud trial hearing delayed

The court of appeals in Milan on Saturday postponed to May 8 a hearing in former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial for tax fraud linked to his television business empire.

The court's judges recognised that Berlusconi had a valid excuse for not being present at the hearing since he is a lawmaker in parliament, which is voting to elect a new president for Italy.

Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud last year and this is his appeals trial, which has been constantly delayed because of the political calendar including a February general election.

A verdict is now possible in late May at the earliest, although Berlusconi's defence lawyers have proven skilled in the past at dragging out the hearings for as long as possible.

Prosecutors had asked for a confirmation of the result of the first trial: a four-year prison sentence, five-year ban from holding public office and a 10 million euro ($13 million) fine.

The sentence is suspended pending the appeal.