In a court hearing lasting less than one minute, David Mills, the tax lawyer, former Camden councillor and estranged husband of Tessa Jowell, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for taking €600,000 (£530,000) in exchange for withholding testimony that could have damaged the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Judge Nicoletta Gandus, president of the three-man bench that has been hearing the case since March 2007, found Mills guilty of bribery and of perverting the course of justice and ordered him to pay €250,000 in damages to the Italian state and €50,000 in legal costs.
Prosecutors had alleged that Mr Berlusconi had paid the bribe himself in return for Mr Mills – his tax adviser and corporate lawyer – giving false evidence in two legal cases in the late 1990s. The Italian leader has always denied that charge and the court found Mills guilty yesterday without identifying the giver of the bribe.
“I am naturally very disappointed by this verdict. I am innocent,” Mills, who was not present in court, said in a statement after the verdict. “This is a highly political case. The judges have not yet given their reasons for their decision, so I cannot say how they dealt with the prosecutor’s own admission that he had no proof. I am hopeful that the verdict and sentence will be set aside on appeal.”
Mills does not have to go to prison until the appeals process is exhausted. If that process takes longer than a year, then Italy’s statute of limitations will kick in and the sentence would be in effect annulled.
Ms Jowell was implicated in the case when the joint mortgage they held was paid off a few days after her husband received the money from Italy. At the height of the furore in 2004 she appeared at risk of losing her job as culture minister, but she then very publicly separated from her husband. An investigation by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, subsequently cleared her of any breach of the ministerial code.
Yesterday Ms Jowell, now the Olympics minister, said: “This is a terrible blow to David and, although we are separated, I have never doubted his innocence.”
Mills acted as a tax adviser and corporate lawyer for Mr Berlusconi’s businesses for more than 20 years, advising his finance company Fininvest. Mr Berlusconi was originally Mills’s co-accused in the bribery case but his name was removed after a new law granting immunity to the top office holders in Italy was passed by his government last year after he swept into power for the third time.
However, there is still a possibility that the immunity law will be overturned by Italy’s constitutional court, in which case Mr Berlusconi may have more tough questions to answer.
The 1990s trials when Mills perverted the course of justice revolved around allegations that Mediaset, Mr Berlusconi’s television company, had cheated the Italian tax authorities on tax payable on the television rights to an American film. In 2004, Mills was called upon to explain the provenance of the sum of ¤600,000 which had been sent to one of his accounts from overseas. In a note to his accountant Bob Drennan, Mills said he received the money from “the B people” by way of Carlo Bernasconi, the former head of the Zurich branch of Fininvest. The reason he was paid the money, he explained, was because he had given court evidence in which “I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly, and so kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble he would have been in, had I said all I knew”.Reuse content