UK minister's husband investigated over 'bribes to lie for Berlusconi'

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The Independent Online

The husband of the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, is under investigation in Milan on suspicion of giving false testimony in return for payment to protect the business interests of the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

The husband of the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, is under investigation in Milan on suspicion of giving false testimony in return for payment to protect the business interests of the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

David Mills, an international corporate lawyer, and Mr Berlusconi are being investigated in connection with suspected tax evasion and money laundering as part of a wider inquiry into the alleged manipulation of film rights by the Prime Minister's Mediaset broadcasting company. Mr Mills, who married Ms Jowell in 1979, is suspected of playing an important role in creating and administering offshore companies that were allegedly used artificially to inflate the price of films bought by Mr Berlusconi for broadcast on his three national television channels.

The new investigation came to light yesterday as the public prosecutors Alfredo Robledo and Fabio De Pasquale prepared to apply for a six-month extension to their inquiry. They claim that the scheme enabled Mr Berlusconi to drain a total of £190m from his Italian companies into secret foreign bank accounts and to evade taxes.

Mr Mills' Milan lawyer, Federico Cecconi, said yesterday that he had received no official notification of the new development and had no idea what specific episodes the investigators were focusing on. "I am confident the investigation will show that Mr Mills never made false statements and always behaved correctly," he said.

A first hint of the bribery investigation emerged last month when a document relating to it was mistakenly made public. In it, Mr Mills reportedly told the prosecutors: "I trust it will be clear that my relations with [Mr Berlusconi's] Fininvest Group were strictly professional, that every sum received by me was fully justified, and that one can certainly not suggest that I was ever influenced or 'bought'."

Documents presented to the court show the prosecutors commissioned an analysis of bank accounts controlled by Mr Mills in London. The report refers to a payment of around £2m allegedly received by him in 1996 from Cantrade Bank in Jersey, "the bank that handled the accounts of the various offshore companies."

Reduced to £1.5m after taxes and expenses were deducted, the money was eventually distributed between Mr Mills and his partners after remaining frozen in a bank account for four years, the prosecutors said.

And they quoted Mr Mills as commenting: "I kept just under £500,000 of what was then getting on for £2m. So, all that risk and cost for not very much."

For the moment it remains unclear as to which of Mr Mills' depositions the prosecutors suspect of being untrue. News reports said they may be focusing on court depositions made by Mr Mills during trials of Mr Berlusconi for alleged bribery of finance police officers and the alleged payment of a £7m bribe to the late Socialist Party leader Bettino Craxi.

In both cases Mr Berlusconi was acquitted, in the latter as a result of application of the statute of limitations.

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