Mills 'regularly used his wife's status to gain favour'

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Indy Politics

David Mills habitually used the name and cabinet minister status of his wife, Tessa Jowell, in an effort to curry favour and gain influence, Italian prosecutors claimed yesterday.

Ms Jowell had been particularly infuriated to learn that, while trying to obtain a licence to practise law in Dubai, Mr Mills had boasted in a letter of his connections not only to his wife but also to Tony Blair.

In a letter leaked from the office of the public prosecutors, Mr Mills wrote: "You will also know that I am married to a member of the Cabinet of this country ... but I have the support and sympathy of very many people in public life, from the Prime Minister down."

But that was only one of numerous occasions when he dropped his wife's name on strategic occasions. The Italian prosecutors say they know of 50 cases in which Mr Mills used Ms Jowell's name and position to improve his business standing.

New allegations continue to be laid at the door of Mr Mills. Over the weekend it emerged how he had bought £67,000 worth of shares in a pub chain, at the same time that Ms Jowell, as minister for public health, was responsible for legislation on licensing laws and smoking in pubs.

After coming to power in 1997, Tony Blair appointed Ms Jowell public health minister. Less than a year later, in February 1998, Mr Mills invested £80,000 in a company called Old Monk run by Gerry Martin, younger brother of Tim Martin, founder of the JH Wetherspoon pub chain. The brother was hoping to emulate the Wetherspoon success with a chain of South Africa-themed pubs.

The investment came out of a Virgin Islands-based company called Struie. Mr Mills had established the tax avoidance shell company for his client, the Formula One millionaire Flavio Briatore - who was later nonplussed to find funds in the company of which he knew nothing. Mr Mills used the company to buy shares in Gerry Martin's Old Monk concern.

While Mr Mills was a key shareholder in the new business, his wife was taking crucial decisions regarding government policy on such questions as smoking in pubs. A White Paper she was involved in drawing up saw the Government move away from a ban on pub smoking. Less than 18 months after buying the shares in Old Monk, Mills sold them on for £147,977, a return of more than 80 per cent.

In 2002, in the process of trying to broker a $200m (£100m) deal to sell aircraft to Iran, Mr Mills tried to use his friendship with Baronness Symons, then a Foreign Office minister, to weave a way through the American-imposed sanctions which made such deals impossible. "I am sure HMG will wish to offer such support as it can to smooth the path with our American friends," he wrote to her. The deal did not happen.

Meanwhile, documents emerged in Milan proving Mr Mills searched for clients to invest in a property deal proposed by the Neapolitan shipping magnate Diego Attanasio, the man Mr Mills claims was the source of the "gift" of £350,000 prosecutors claim was a bribe from Silvio Berlusconi (Mr Attanasio denies giving Mr Mills the sum).

The businessman had bought an old industrial lot in Salerno, south of Naples, for a knockdown price then bribed local officials to change its use to commercial, a crime of which he was later convicted. The whole transaction, which yielded a 90 per cent profit, was conducted through an Isle of Man company, Dendor Investments Ltd, set by Mills.

Influential friends

* DIEGO ATTANASIO

The Neapolitan businessman routinely described as a shipping magnate, but better known for the property deal which saw him jailed for bribing officials. David Mills says Attanasio gave him a present of £350,000, but Diego has a good alibi: "I was in jail."

* MARCELLO DELL'UTRI

In 1985 Mr Mills appointed him director of the British arm of Silvio Berlusconi's Publitalia advertising agency. The college friend of the Italian Prime Minister brought a mafioso to live in Silvio's villa, and has been given a nine-year sentence for colluding with the Mafia.

* CARLO BERNASCONI

(above) Bernasconi, a cousin of Mr Berlusconi, was head of the Swiss operation of the Berlusconi's Fininvest until his death in 2001. Mr Mills also says the £350000 was a present from Bernasconi.

* FLAVIO BRIATORE

The Formula One multi-millionaire who owns a fashionable restaurant in the West End and once dated Naomi Campbell.

* SILVIO BERLUSCONI

He says he has never met Mr Mills, but Mr Mills recalls a one-hour meeting, and he had dinner with Il Cavaliere and his daughter Marina at the Garrick Club in 1995. Mr Mills was the architect of Mr Berlusconi's "archipelago" of offshore funds.

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