Aide close to Berlusconi helped the Sicilian Mafia, judges find

The statement came in a 1,768-page deposition giving the reasons why they decided seven months ago to sentence Senator Marcello dell'Utri to nine years in prison for Mafia association. Dell'Utri, who was born in Sicily, is regarded as the founder of Forza Italia and has been among Mr Berlusconi's closest colleagues for more than 30 years.

He was a friend of Mr Berlusconi at university and went to work for a bank in his native island, but Mr Berlusconi, then a budding property tycoon, persuaded him to abandon that career and work for him instead.

As the judges put it, Mr Berlusconi was for him "a siren which Dell'Utri did not know how to resist". During the trial, the prosecution claimed that Dell'Utri was useful to Mr Berlusconi because he already had connections to the Mafia in the island, and was therefore well-placed to act as a go-between. The judges describe him as a bridge enabling Cosa Nostra "to come in contact with important economic and financial circles". Mr Berlusconi himself they adjudged "an industrialist disposed to pay for his peace of mind", who had knowingly hired a Mafia boss, Vittorio Mangano, to work in his home, supposedly as a stable-hand.

When Mr Berlusconi declined to answer the judges' questions, they say, he lost a golden opportunity to come clean about his business dealings.

Dell'Utri is appealing his conviction. He described the judges' deposition as "an uncritical endorsement of the arguments of the prosecution ... 1,800 uselessly repetitive pages".

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