David Mills, the estranged husband of Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, was today sentenced to four and a half years in jail for taking a bribe from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to give false evidence in corruption trials.
Mills, 64, was convicted by a court in Milan at the end of a three-year trial on charges of accepting a 600,000 dollar (then £350,000) payment from the politician and media tycoon.
In a statement released after the verdict, Mills protested his innocence and said he was hopeful he would be cleared on appeal.
He said: "I am naturally very disappointed by this verdict.
"I am innocent, but this is a highly political case.
"The judges have not yet given their reasons for their decision, so I cannot say how they dealt with the prosecutor's own admission that he had no proof.
"I am hopeful that the verdict and sentence will be set aside on appeal and am told that I will have excellent grounds, and have every faith in my excellent lawyer, Federico Cecconi.
"The sentence does not become effective for any purpose until two levels of appeal have been concluded.
"I have been advised not to make any further public comment on the case until it has finally come to an end.
"Meanwhile, I am getting on with my professional life."
Mills is not thought to have been in Italy for the verdict.
The sentence is close to the four years, eight months which prosecutors had been asking for if Mills was convicted.
It is regarded as unlikely that he will go to prison because, by the time the appeals process is finished, the time allowed for a sentence will have expired under Italy's statute of limitations.
Mr Berlusconi was originally accused of corruption - but his case was frozen last year after his government passed a law giving legal immunity to top officials, including the premier.
Mills, a tax lawyer, was accused of taking a bribe to give false testimony in a trial Mr Berlusconi faced in relation to his business dealings. Mills was one of Mr Berlusconi's consultants on offshore tax havens.
The charges stemmed from a letter which Mills sent to a British accountant in 2004 in which he said the 600,000 dollar payment came from "Mr B".
He wrote: "I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly, and so kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble that I would have landed him in had I said all I knew."
Mills said the letter described a hypothetical situation as a way of soliciting tax advice for an unnamed client.
He said the money came from an Italian shipbuilder, Diego Attanasio, who had once been his client, a claim repeated by Mr Berlusconi, but which Mr Attanasio denies.
Both Mills and Mr Berlusconi have denied any wrongdoing.
Ms Jowell said: "This is a terrible blow to David and, although we are separated, I have never doubted his innocence."
Mills was also ordered to pay damages of 250,000 euro, according to Italian news agency Ansa.
In January, the solicitor representing the Italian government, which is bringing a civil suit against Mills for damaging the reputation of the Italian premier's office, asked judges for Mills to pay damages of that amount, and the court ordered Mills to pay the sum, Ansa reported.
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