Judges say Italian prime minister handed over 'enormous sums of money' to Cosa Nostra for protection...
Silvio Berlusconi expanded his Italian TV network by paying the mafia for protection and the installation of relay stations in Sicily, judges say. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images
In a lengthy written judgment on one of the Italian prime minister's closest associates, the judges said that before entering politics Berlusconi paid "enormous sums of money" to Cosa Nostra for protection and later handed over funds to safeguard his network's relay stations on Sicily.
Their conclusions dealt a stunning blow to Berlusconi, and came as reports surfaced that one of his ministers was planning to step down. Maria Carfagna, the 34-year-old former topless model turned equal opportunities minister, failed to deny the reports after they began to circulate.
The judges of the appeal court in Palermo were giving the reasons behind a decision in June to partially uphold the conviction of Marcello Dell'Utri, a senator and the man who in 1993 organised Berlusconi's first party, Forza Italia (Come on Italy!).
In a 641-page document, the three judges wrote that, until the year before, Dell'Utri had also been a "specific channel of communication" between the tycoon and Cosa Nostra. They said his role was one of mediation between the mob and Berlusconi. Initial extracts from the document did not make clear whether they considered the future PM to have been a victim or a beneficiary of his relationship with the mafia.
But certain passages appeared to imply that he was both. The judges accepted as credible the account of a mafioso turned state's evidence who testified that Berlusconi had received three Cosa Nostra godfathers at his office in Milan in 1975 to arrange for protection for himself and his family after receiving threats.
But, they added,
A spokesman for the prime minister's party described Dell'Utri's conviction as unjust, but did not comment on its implications for Berlusconi. Laura Garavini, chief representative on the parliamentary anti-mafia commission of Italy's biggest opposition group, the Democratic party, said the judgment offered confirmation of
On 29 June , judges in Palermo reduced Dell'Utri's sentence from nine to seven years and upheld his conviction for associating with the mafia – but only prior to 1992. That drew the sting from claims by former mobsters and others that Forza Italia had, in effect, been sponsored by the mafia.
Last night's judgment authoritatively places Berlusconi at one end of a chain that leads through Dell'Utri to Cosa Nostra. The prime minister has in the past vehemently denied any connivance with organised crime. His supporters have argued that the allegations against him are motivated by mafia fury over the progress made by his government in combating organised crime. This week, police arrested prominent Camorra mobster Antonio Iovine in Casal di Principe near Naples. Iovine was the acting boss of a gang that figures prominently in Roberto Saviano's global best-seller, Gomorrah.
Berlusconi's spokesman said last night he had no comment over the ruling.