Berlusconi's brother sentenced to prison

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The Independent Online

Silvio Berlusconi's younger brother Paolo, 53, emerged briefly from the Italian prime minister's shadow this week when a judge in Milan sentenced him to four months and 15 days in jail for false invoicing.

Silvio Berlusconi's younger brother Paolo, 53, emerged briefly from the Italian prime minister's shadow this week when a judge in Milan sentenced him to four months and 15 days in jail for false invoicing.

The case dates from the mid-90s when he and his colleagues made a fortune from over-charging the Lombardy region for disposing of its rubbish.

Between 1991 and 1996 Paolo controlled a firm called SIMEC, which obtained an exclusive contract to dispose of Lombardy's rubbish at Cerro Maggiore, a vast landfill to the west of Milan that became known in Italy as "the biggest dustbin in Europe".

Paolo obtained the refuse disposal contract thanks to the then president of the region, Roberto Formigoni, a member of Silvio's party, Forza Italia.

Having obtained the monopoly, Paolo and his co-directors proceeded to milk it for vast profit by inflating the sums charged to the region.

In October 1998, Paolo and 25 others were indicted for fraud, damage to the Lombardy region, false accounting and embezzlement. He was accused of having misappropriated the equivalent of more than €60m (£40m) received from the Lombardy region.

Paolo was found guilty of corruption and mismanagement at Cerro Maggiore in July 2002. He avoided a jail sentence through a plea bargain with the public prosecutor which obliged him to pay the record sum of €85m, part of which was a fine and part reimbursement of the region.

But he did receive a jail sentence in the same month for false invoicing relating to the same case. Aspects of the false invoicing case were placed under seperate judicial proceedings and this week's sentencing on them will be added to the earlier term, making a total jail term of two years and one month. His accomplices received smaller sentences.

Over-charging for rubbish disposal is only one of the ways in which Paolo has flirted with jail down the years.

He is best known today as the owner of Il Giornale, a daily newspaper in Milan which, as well as the news weekly Panorama, is his brother's most reliable mouthpiece in the Italian print media. In the run-up to the general election of 2001, investigators charged that Il Giornale had failed to pay €2m in back taxes.

In what has become a frequent lament during his term in office, Silvio Berlusconi accused the magistrates of enforcing "a left-wing vendetta" with the aim of damaging his electoral chances. Paolo denied wrongdoing. The case was dropped.

Paolo also came close to being arrested in July 1994, during the so-called "Mani Pulite" ("Operation Clean Hands") campaign by magistrates against corrupt politicians and businessmen. The magistrates announced their intention of arresting him on suspicion of having paid out bribes of hundreds of millions of lira.

The prime minister again rushed to his kid brother's defence, poo-poohing the bribes (which Paolo had admitted paying) as "ridiculous and small" and swiftly enacting a government decree making his brother's arrest - and that of anybody else accused of white collar crimes - impossible.

The decree became known as "Decreto Salva-Ladri" ("Save-the-Thieves Decree") and provoked so much indignation that it had to be withdrawn.

Of Paolo's latest judicial mishap, his lawyer Giovanni Ponti said: "This is a non-existent offence. We will seek to demonstrate as much on appeal." Paolo remains at liberty.

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