An Italian court threw out bribery charges against the former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, on Saturday under the statute of limitations, bringing the five-year trial to an end.

Prosecutors had called for a five-year prison term for Mr. Berlusconi, who was accused of having paid off his former British tax lawyer David Mills to provide false testimony in his favour in two trials in the 1990s.

Judge Francesca Vitale spent three hours considering the verdict after defence lawyers presented their final arguments, but took less than a minute to tell a packed court room that she ruled that the case had run out of time allowed by law.

Prosecutor Fabio de Pasquale looked downcast and told waiting hordes of journalists: “I just want to get out of here.”

Mr. Berlusconi's lawyers refused to comment. The media magnate, who has always protested his innocence, was not in court. He had left Rome for Milan Saturday morning, but had come to see his football team AC Milan play Juventus.

Despite his being convicted several times of corruption and false accounting in the past, all cases against Mr. Berlusconi have either been overturned or discarded when they expire after years of moving laboriously through Italy's justice system.

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