David Mills: The brilliant, well-connected lawyer who was too impulsive for his own good

Peter Popham
Wednesday 18 February 2009 01:00

Brilliant and extroverted, master of four languages and the clarinet, the man sentenced to four and a half years in jail by a court in Milan yesterday is one of the best-connected lawyers in Britain, with a network of influential friends and relations, most of them on or around the summit of New Labour.

He met his now-estranged wife Tessa Jowell when both of them were councillors for the London Borough of Camden, a breeding ground for ambitious young politicians bent on remaking the Labour Party in the 1980s. Others to who he is close include his sister-in-law, the former director of public prosecutions Barbara Mills, Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and many more. So how did such a gifted, clever, well-connected man land in such a scrape?

As a fluent Italian speaker, Mr Mills might ruefully admit that the word that sums up the source of his difficulties is “spregiudicatezza”, recklessness – a word which is also often used to describe the career of his long-term client Silvio Berlusconi.

Mills had been a barrister for ten years when it dawned on him that he could make a great deal more money in a different sphere of the law, and he reinvented himself as a commercial lawyer.

In part because of his language skills, top Milan law firm Carnelutti asked him to set up a London office for them, and he agreed, running it in tandem with his own partnership, Mackenzie Mills. Some of his foreign clients merely needed his assistance in negotiating British law but others needed more creative involvement. Big Italian firms that came banging on his door included Fininvest, the financial firm behind Berlusconi’s media empire.

Mills became one of the architects of Berlusconi’s mysterious archipelago of offshore companies, and while he has never been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with those firms, there was always the risk of contamination by proximity. But being for many years the legal adviser of a figure as controversial as Berlusconi was almost bound to bring headaches.

All the while, Mills has given the impression of finding the whole adventure enormous fun. In the thick of the Milan trial, with his marriage dragged on to the rocks because of the terrible publicity, Mills told an interviewer from Legal Business magazine: “It’s like a thriller, all of this … [it’s] very exciting.”

The impression he leaves is of a man of vast talent who is too clever, and impulsive, by half.

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