David Mills, the husband of the Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell, was last night facing a deepening crisis over allegations that he received a bribe from Silvio Berlusconi.
Addressing a rally in Verona, the Italian Prime Minister said: "Someone has taken advantage of my name." His comments were an apparent reference to a letter from Mr Mills, published on Saturday, in which the British lawyer said he he had received $600,000 (£346,000) from " the B organisation", which he was told to treat as a long-term gift or loan in return for giving favourable evidence in a police investigation of Mr Berlusconi.
Mr Mills claimed yesterday that he took a "completely insane" risk and invented the story about the bribe as a device to obtain tax advice for a client whom he did not want to identify at the time. The story was contained in the letter, which was written to his accountant in February 2004.
In it, Mr Mills said that "the way in which I had been able to give my evidence (I told no lies, but I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly) had kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble that I would have landed him in if I had said all I knew", he wrote.
The publication of the letter in Italy by La Stampa newspaper came as a further blow for Mr Mills. He has been at the centre of a judicial inquiry by prosecutors in Milan investigating allegations of corruption linked to the Italian premier.
Mr Mills claimed that he wrote the letter when he was working for an Italian client, whom he named yesterday, for the first time, as Diego Attanasio. Mr Mills said he wrote it because he wanted to invest $600,000 for Mr Attanasio without identifying him. He was horrified to learn subsequently that the letter to his accountants was in the hands of the Italian police, who accuse Mr Mills of being paid to give false evidence in court for Mr Berlusconi.
The letter resulted in him undergoing a 10-hour interrogation, at the end of which he signed a confession which he said yesterday was false, insisting that he had signed it when he was "exhausted and frankly frightened". The signed statement said that he "protected Berlusconi in various trials and investigations".
Mr Mills denied any wrongdoing, but admitted writing the letter in which he appeared to have admitted that he had taken money from "the B people".
Speaking from Florida, Mr Mills said: "It was an invented scenario which raised all the relevant questions. It was completely insane to present a scenario that carried such risks, but it never occurred to me that it would fall into the hands of the Italian police."
Mr Berlusconi, who faces a looming election, has denied all the accusations levelled at him, claiming they are politically motivated. He went a step further yesterday and denied he had ever met Mr Mills. Without referring directly to the lawyer, he said the claims related to "someone I have not even had the means of meeting".
Mr Mills said that he spent an hour with Mr Berlusconi and his daughter in 1995.Reuse content