Peter Popham: Mills’ conviction is an anti-climax

Milan Notebook: What moral should be drawn from Mills’s conviction and four-and-a-half-year jail sentence?

Monday 23 February 2009 01:00

It was billed as the trial of the year. But in the end last week’s climax of the prosecution of Silvio Berlusconi and his British lawyer David Mills, below, for bribery and corruption was a non-event. It took place in a dingy, half-empty courtroom at the rear end of Milan’s vast and stupefying Tribunale, Fascist architecture at its most bleakly oppressive. Neither of the accused even showed his face at the trial; Mills sent apologies and justifications, but Berlusconi was not even virtually present: his latest ad personam law, granting him immunity from prosecution throughout his term in office, extracted him from the case half way through.

What moral should be drawn from Mills’s conviction and four-and-a-half-year jail sentence? Using a long spoon to sup with the devil seems inadequate. During his many years in Berlusconi’s service, Mills helped to construct a network of offshore shell companies for the media billionaire. Was the use that Berlusconi made of them none of his business? For a former Socialist councillor, married to a Socialist cabinet minister, this seems a woefully reductive claim.

The accounts were used to pay Berlusconi’s late patron, Bettino Craxi, millions in bribes, to pay a bribe of $434,000 to a Roman judge, to cheat the Italian exchequer out of millions. It was in a case regarding that last abuse that Mills was fatally uneconomical with the truth.

Thanks to the statute of limitations it is unlikely that David Mills’ little difficulty in Milan will ever result in any time spent in prison. He has many powerful friends in London, and the case is probably being laughed off at Islington dinner parties as I write. But the connivance in Italian perfidy of a man so close to the pinnacle of the Labour party is morally outrageous.

A stigma re-emerges

Racial hostility to new immigrants has provoked fears that Italy is returning to the climate of the 1930s, when Mussolini’s race laws stigmatised Jews. So is there a sinister message on the front of the current Italian edition of Wired: a picture of the Nobel-winning Jewish-Italian scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini, who turns 100 in April, with the coverline “ItAliens”?

Booting out the Bishop

The world was aghast to learn that British Lefebvrian “Bishop” Richard Williamson disbelieves in the gas chambers, yet Pope Benedict welcomed him back into the Church. Now Williamson is about to be booted out of Argentina, having lost his job there. Perhaps this brilliant Pope had it planned all along.

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