Berlusconi hurt by 'gift' revelations

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The Independent Online

Prosecutors in Milan believe Tessa Jowell's statement asserting that the £350,000 received by her husband, David Mills, was initially described by him as a "gift" has critically undermined Silvio Berlusconi's defence in the case against him.

According to documents in the prosecution file, Mr Mills told investigators in 2004 that the money was a fee, paid to him by his client Diego Attanasio.

Magistrates believe they have sufficient evidence to link the money to the Italian Prime Minister and were said to be "delighted" yesterday when the Secretary of State for Culture appeared to contradict her husband over the nature of the cash.

"If it is a gift then Mr Berlusconi is guilty," said one prosecution source.

Niccolo Ghedini, a lawyer for Mr Berlusconi, dismissed the prosecution case. He said: "We must repeat for the umpteenth time that the lawyer Mills received the money indicated by the prosecutor of Milan from a person who has been clearly identified and is totally unrelated to [Mr Berlusconi's] Fininvest Group and in particular unrelated to Prime Minister Berlusconi."

Meanwhile, Mario Pescante, Mr Berlusconi's minister of sport and a member of the International Olympic Committee, came under pressureto explain whether Ms Jowell sought to use undue influence to secure votes under his control to win the games for London last year.

He told La Repubblica newspaper that he met Ms Jowell. "She asked me to vote for London to host the Olympic Games. But I deny in the most absolute way that she mentioned the name of her husband or that she boasted of connections of any sort to Italy," he said.