Tape shows Berlusconi thought of paying Mafia to protect son

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The Independent Online

Silvio Berlusconi was facing a fresh storm over alleged links to the Mafia yesterday after transcripts of a conversation emerged in which he told a close associate he was considering paying off the Cosa Nostra in response to threats that they would behead his son.

Silvio Berlusconi was facing a fresh storm over alleged links to the Mafia yesterday after transcripts of a conversation emerged in which he told a close associate he was considering paying off the Cosa Nostra in response to threats that they would behead his son.

The media mogul and Italian Prime Minister made the remarks in 1988, prior to taking office, saying that he had received specific threats that the Mafia would decapitate his son, Piersilvio, and parade his body in Milan.

Mr Berlusconi disclosed the hitherto unknown threat to his son in a telephone conversation with his friend and real estate business partner, Renato Della Valle, according to a court transcript. "I have a really big problem," the television mogul was quoted as telling his friend in the conversation, published in the Italian daily La Repubblica. The exchange was intercepted and taped at the time at the request of the Milan prosecutor's office.

"I have to send away my children, who are leaving now for abroad, because they have extorted me ... in an ugly way," Mr Berlusconi was quoted saying. "This happened to me other times, 10 years ago, and ... they have come back again."

Mr Berlusconi continued: "They told me that, if, within a certain time, I don't do something, they will send me my son's head and dump his body in [Milan's] Cathedral piazza."

The transcript was printed in excerpts from a new book by two Italian journalists who obtained the tape of the conversation from evidence presented by prosecutors at the trial on charges of Mafia membership of Marcello dell'Utri, Mr Berlusconi's right-hand man and former head of his advertising company, Publitalia, who masterminded the tycoon's entry into politics in 1992.

"These are not very nice things to hear, so I've decided, I will send them to America."

Asked by his associate when the deadline for delivering the favour to the Mafia was, Mr Berlusconi replied "within six days". Mr Della Valle suggested they meet to discuss the threat, but Mr Berlusconi continued: "No, no, but I tell you sincerely that, if I was sure of getting this thing off my balls, I would pay peacefully, at least in that way they won't break my balls any more."

There was no immediate comment from Palazzo Chigi, the Prime Minister's office.

The media mogul's remarks date from a period when the Mafia was seeking new political allies after the ruling Christian Democrat Party, under international pressure, began to cut its old links to the mob.

Mr Berlusconi at the time was a close friend of Bettino Craxi, the Socialist Party leader, and the Mafia for a time supported the Socialists in Sicilian elections.

La Repubblica asked what the favour the Mafia asked was, why Berlusconi had not denounced the threat to his son's life to the police, and what the mogul had done to defuse it.

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