Berlusconi tells investigators he was not blackmailed by Sicilian Mafia
FORMER ITALIAN prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has denied accusations that he was blackmailed by Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, according to media reports.
On Wednesday, the 75-year-old media tycoon was questioned by Palermo-based prosecutors about his relationship with senator and European Parliament MP Marcello Dell’Utri, a political and business ally for the last 40 years.
The questioning, which took place in a finance police barracks in Rome, came within the context of an investigation into alleged “negotiations” between Cosa Nostra and the Italian state in the early 1990s in the wake of the Mafia killing of magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. Investigators believe the Mafia may have used Mr Dell’Utri in 1994 to send a message to Mr Berlusconi, then prime minister, threatening further attacks on the state if the prison conditions of convicted Mafiosi were not eased.
Mr Dell’Utri, a Sicilian, has long been accused of Mafia collusion, with Mafia informers claiming he was an “intermediary” through whom they could contact Mr Berlusconi. In a trial that lasted 15 years, Mr Dell’Utri was twice convicted of collusion before a court last March controversially ordered that his appeal case be retried.
This week, investigators also wanted to know why Mr Berlusconi had paid Mr Dell’Utri €40 million over the last 10 years. They allege the money may have represented some kind of extortion. As he has consistently done for the last 15 years, Mr Berlusconi reportedly offered a vigorous defence of Mr Dell’Utri, rejecting any question of extortion, blackmail or payment to the Mafia.
“He is my friend and one of my closest and most trusted aides. I have given him presents to thank him for his work . . . He is a very decent person who has never tried to pressurise me, let alone extort money from me,” Mr Berlusconi reportedly told investigators.
Investigators also questioned the former prime minister about his relationship with convicted Mafia murderer Vittorio Mangano, the infamous “stable groom” who acted as a bodyguard at Mr Berlusconi’s Arcore residence in the 1970s thanks to the intervention of Mr Dell’Utri.
One Mafia informer has alleged that in 1974, at a time when the kidnapping of the wealthy in Italy was not uncommon, Mr Berlusconi had a meeting with Palermo-based Mafia godfather Stefano Bontade, organised by Mr Dell’Utri. The allegation, also made by other informers, is that in return for protection Mr Berlusconi regularly paid money to the Mafia.
Investigators were keen to know why Mr Berlusconi had bought Mr Dell’Utri’s house on Lake Como for €21 million last March, on the eve of the court ruling on alleged Mafia collusion. Mr Berlusconi claimed he had wanted to help a friend at a difficult and delicate moment.