Berlusconi aide: Mobsters held me hostage for €35m
Accountant forced to call former PM by armed men who claimed to have documents for sale
Silvio Berlusconi's declining political fortunes and never-ending legal woes were yesterday overshadowed by claims that one of his inner circle had been held hostage in a bid to extract €35m from the ex-premier.
The 76-year-old billionaire's trusted accountant, Giuseppe Spinelli, whose job it was to hand envelopes stuffed with cash to young women attending the tycoon's notorious adult parties, has told police that six armed men kept him and his wife captive in their home on 15 October.
Police announced yesterday that three Albanians and three Italians had been arrested in connection with the incident. The ringleader was named as Francesco Leone, a 51-year-old convicted criminal with links to the Sacra Corona Unita – the Puglian mafia.
Mr Spinelli, 71, said the masked men forced him to call Berlusconi to communicate their intention to sell the mogul documents that could extricate his Fininvest holding company from a €560m compensation payment it owes a rival firm.
The head of Milan's anti-mafia police squad Alessandro Giuliano, said: "According to the account of Spinelli, while he was returning home on the 15 October, he was threatened by hooded men on his door step. He was then held captive in his home for the whole night, until nine the next morning when he was made to make a direct phone call to Berlusconi."
But within hours of recounting Mr Spinelli's version of events, the Italian press began to ponder the stranger aspects of the case. It was unclear why Mr Spinelli waited 36 hours after his captors had gone before calling the police or why he was then whisked away by Berlusconi's personal bodyguards. It was reported yesterday that he has since been living in a secret location.
Niccolo Ghedini, Berlusconi's lawyer, said he was confident the documents brandished by the bandits were false: "We never saw them, but judging from what they were claiming, I would say we're talking about a complete bluff," he said.
Mr Spinelli was told by his captors that the evidence could reverse the fortunes of Berlusconi's business empire as it appeals against the giant compensation payment it was ordered to pay the CIR company, owned by the rival mogul Carlo de Benedetti.
Fininvest wrestled control of the Mondadori publishing house from Mr De Benedetti in 1991, in a takeover battle settled in a Rome courtroom. But in 2007 a court in Milan found Berlusconi's former lawyer and close ally Cesare Previti had bribed one of the two Rome judges to rule in favour of Fininvest. Berlusconi himself was cleared of responsibility.
A verdict in the "Rubygate" case, in which Mr Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underage girl and of abusing his office to cover up the crime, is expected in February next year.
- 1 Hair loss explained: How and why men go bald
- 2 Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
- 3 Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
- 4 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 5 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
Most expensive city to live in for expatriates: Luanda, Angola takes number one spot with Hong Kong and Zurich in top three
If Surrey were Syria: Social experiment shows what it's like to live under siege
Video of Irish 'professional boxer' fighting Istanbul neighbourhood goes viral in Turkey
Irish tourist filmed fighting with shopkeepers in Turkey says they 'messed with the wrong man'
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal get peerages
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is the holding company of an expa...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Setup, configure, troubleshoot,...
£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...