Accused Mills awaits his verdict

Minister's estranged husband denies taking bribe from Italian Prime Minister
  • @peterpopham

Three years after bribery allegations against Tessa Jowell's estranged husband David Mills surfaced, a judge in Milan is expected to give her verdict tomorrow. At first, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was accused of corruption, until his government passed a law giving him legal immunity.

Mr Mills, a tax lawyer who for many years was one of Mr Berlusconi's consultants on offshore tax havens, is accused of taking a bribe of $600,000 to give false testimony in one of the many trials Mr Berlusconi has faced which alleged crooked business dealings.

The charges had their origin in a letter Mr Mills sent to a British accountant in 2004 in which he said, explaining the provenance of the $600,000 payment he had received, that it came from "Mr B". "I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly," he wrote, "and so kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble that I would have landed him in had I said all I knew."

The private letter found its way into the hands of prosecutors in Milan who claimed it was proof that Mr Berlusconi had corrupted Mr Mills, and the two were put on trial. But Mr Mills changed his explanation for the letter to the accountant, Bob Drennan, claiming that the letter described a hypothetical situation as a way of soliciting tax advice for an unnamed client. Despite the damage the case did to Mr Mills's reputation and his marriage: he and Ms Jowell (now minister for the Olympics) separated when it appeared that the publicity over the case could harm her position in Mr Blair's cabinet.

Mr Mills told Legal Business magazine he found the trial absorbing. "It's very exciting," he said. "It's like a thriller, all of this... There are a lot of facts, but some fiction." He then said the money came from a Neapolitan arms dealer, Diego Attanasio, who had once been his client, a claim repeated by Mr Berlusconi. Mr Attanasio denied it firmly.

Despite the long professional association between Mr Mills and Mr Berlusconi, the latter at one point even denied knowing who the well-connected British lawyer was. Neither Mr Mills nor Mr Berlusconi showed up at any of the hearings. In the final one last week, Mr Mills apologised while continuing to deny guilt. Prosecutors have asked for a sentence of four years and eight months. If convicted, Mr Mills is expected to appeal.