ROME (AP) — Silvio Berlusconi's lawyers and allies are expressing outrage that Italy's highest court set a remarkably quick July 30 hearing date for his tax fraud appeal — an apparently accelerated calendar to prevent the statute of limitations from expiring on one of the charges.

The Court of Cassation set the date as soon as Berlusconi's lawyers deposited their appeal Tuesday, an almost unheard of quick turnaround for Italy's notoriously slow justice system.

The stakes are incredibly high for Berlusconi, who has dodged legal woes for much of his two decades in politics but now faces the specter of being barred from holding public office for five years.

In May, an appeals court in Milan upheld Berlusconi's tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence in the case involving his Mediaset empire.

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