Mills and Berlusconi to stand trial for tax evasion

Click to follow
The Independent Online

David Mills, the estranged husband of the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, has been ordered by a Milan judge to stand trial on charges of money laundering and tax evasion with the former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The charges follow an investigation of Mr Berlusconi's television empire, Mediaset.

Both men could face jail terms of between four and 12 years if convicted.

Judge Fabio Paparella ordered them to appear on 21 November in the Milan Tribunal with Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of Mediaset, and eight other executives. Preliminary hearings began in October after a four-year investigation by Milan magistrates into claims of embezzlement and other wrongdoing in television deals between 1994 and 1999.

The prosecutors claim that an American company sold television and cinema rights to two offshore firms controlled by Fininvest, the Berlusconi family holding. The offshore firms then allegedly raised the prices of the rights and sold them to Mediaset, controlled by Fininvest, to avoid Italian taxes and set up a slush fund.

Mr Mills, a tax lawyer, has always denied the charges against him.

Magistrates are also investigating whether Mr Berlusconi paid Mr Mills, who began advising the Italian media mogul more than 25 years ago, for not revealing in two court trials details of his dealings with Mediaset.

In a letter to his accountant filed by prosecutors, Mr Mills had said he had received $600,000 after he "turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly" when he testified in a Berlusconi fraud trial.

He later denied receiving money from Mr Berlusconi. He said the £350,000 that arrived in his bank account came from an Italian client, a Neapolitan shipping magnate, Diego Attanasio, who has in turn denied making the payment.

Mr Berlusconi not only denies paying Mr Mills, but even denies knowing the man who advised him for many years. At the most, he concedes that he may have shaken his hand, without knowing who he was.

Ms Jowell was drawn into the affair after it emerged that she had co-signed a £408,000 loan against the value of their house, which was paid off just weeks later. She survived a Cabinet Office inquiry this year, insisting she had not been told about the money.

Mr Mills told Channel 4 News that the judge had ordered he should stand trial over allegations that he aided and abetted tax evasion, not that he accepted a £325,000 bribe from Mr Berlusconi. He said: "These are charges which would never have been brought in the UK. Italy's Italy and things are different there." He added: "I know I am innocent and I have an excellent legal team in Italy."

Mr Mills said the case would run out of time in 18 months, "long before" the allegations could be proven or disproven. He added: "I won't have an opportunity to prove my innocence."