Mills and Berlusconi to face trial on corruption charges

David Mills, the estranged husband of Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has been ordered to stand trial in Italy alongside the country's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on corruption charges.

Mr Berlusconi, now the leader of the opposition, is accused of paying a bribe of at least $600,000 (£315,000) to Mr Mills, a corporate lawyer, and Mr Mills of accepting it. In return it is claimed that Mr Mills withheld information damaging to Mr Berlusconi in two trials during the 1990s.

The trial is due to start in March next year. The key evidence against Mr Mills, who first became involved in setting up offshore accounts for Mr Berlusconi and his companies in 1980, is a note that Mr Mills wrote to his accountant in which he said he had received $600,000 from "the B people" for which, during his appearances in court, he had "turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly", and thereby had "kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble I would have landed him in if I had said all I knew".

Questioned by Italian prosecutors, Mr Mills confirmed that the letter was authentic but said the sum was a "present" from Carlo Bernasconi, an old friend of Mr Berlusconi and the head of the Swiss office of Fininvest, Mr Berlusconi's finance company, until his death in 2001. The sum, he now claimed, was nothing to do with the evidence he had given but to compensate him for losses he had incurred during an unrelated Berlusconi transaction. But he subsequently changed his account again and said the letter was not a description of what really happened but purely hypothetical. He now said the sum came from a Neapolitan ship owner called Diego Attanasio, for whom he had set up shell companies in tax havens. Mr Attanasio has denied that he paid the sum to Mr Mills.

Mr Berlusconi's spokesman said: "This is another low blow against Silvio Berlusconi which has nothing to do with justice and a lot to do with politics."

The bribery case has been spun off from a separate case involving the two men which comes to trial on 21 November. In that case Mr Berlusconi is accused of buying Hollywood film rights through offshore companies set up by Mr Mills, then selling them on to his own television network at inflated prices, thereby artificially bringing down his Italian companies' profits and saving himself, it is claimed, some €60m in tax.

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