updated 3/10/2006 8:44:10 AM ET 2006-03-10T13:44:10

Prosecutors in Milan said Friday they have requested that Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi be indicted on charges of corruption.

The premier is accused of ordering at least $600,000 paid to British lawyer David Mills — whose indictment also was being sought — in 1997 in exchange for the lawyer’s false testimony in two trials against Berlusconi. Both men deny the allegations.

Berlusconi’s lawyer did not immediately return calls to his cell phone.

A Milan judge will now hold a preliminary hearing to decide whether Berlusconi and Mills should be charged and go to trial. The hearing could start in May, judicial sources said.

Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale has said Mills, who is married and formally separated from British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, is accused of giving false testimony in two hearings, in 1997 and 1998.

Prosecutors have declined to release details, but according to news reports, Mills is accused of failing to mention a 1995 phone call with Berlusconi in which the two discussed alleged illicit payments from Berlusconi to former Socialist Premier Bettino Craxi.

He also is accused of failing to tell a court that two offshore companies involved in buying U.S. film rights were linked to Berlusconi.

Tax fraud?
The accusations surrounding Mills’ testimony stem from a separate case in which Berlusconi, Mill and 12 others are accused of tax fraud and embezzlement over the purchase of U.S. movie rights by Mediaset, Berlusconi’s media empire. All the defendants deny wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have said they had rushed to complete the probe and to try to bring the case to trial after Parliament passed a reform, backed by Berlusconi’s government, which reduced the statute of limitations on the charges.

The conservative premier has repeatedly accused Milan prosecutors of waging a political vendetta against him following years of probes and prosecution against him. He claims they sympathize with the left.

The prosecutors’ request for an indictment comes a month before Italy’s general election, in which Berlusconi is running against the center-left opposition, led by Romano Prodi, who is slightly ahead in the polls.

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