Jun 29th 2006
From The Economist print edition
PALERMO. Appeal hearings begin in a Mafia case that may touch Silvio Berlusconi
WHO provided the early finance for Fininvest, the parent company of Silvio Berlusconi's business empire? Prosecutors hope to find an answer during appeal proceedings that have just begun in Palermo, in a case involving Marcello Dell'Utri, a close associate of Mr Berlusconi and one of the founders of his Forza Italia political party. Mr Dell'Utri, who was returned to parliament again in April's election, is appealing against a nine-year prison sentence for association with the Mafia that was handed down in December 2004. The prosecution is, in turn, asking for the sentence to be increased to 11 years.
Mr Berlusconi is not directly involved in the case. When the prosecutors sought to question him in November 2002, as a witness, he availed himself of the right of silence. The prosecutors say that there are “many obscure areas in the birth of Fininvest”, and that there were substantial financial flows “for which it has not been possible to arrive in any way at the source of the money involved”. They want to present new evidence during the appeal that might shed more light on these matters.
Part of that new evidence is testimony given in 2004 and 2005 during inquiries in Rome into the murder in June 1982 of Roberto Calvi, Banco Ambrosiano's chairman, just before the bank's collapse. The prosecutors in Palermo want to ascertain if Mr Calvi, whom they describe as having been a beneficiary of substantial Mafia financing, made any investment in Fininvest in the first half of the 1970s.
The prosecutors note that a senior official from the Bank of Italy, Francesco Giuffrida, who was seconded to help the magistrates in Rome with their investigations, had uncovered various foreign operations. One of these involved Capitalfin International, which set up a subsidiary called Fininvest Limited-Gran Cayman in 1974. Capitalfin International, in which the Banco Ambrosiano group later acquired a big stake, had links to the P2 masonic lodge, of which both Mr Calvi and Mr Berlusconi became members.
Mr Giuffrida helped prosecutors in the case against Mr Dell'Utri, giving evidence in Palermo in May 2002 about the establishment of Fininvest in Italy and about its financial flows in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Earlier this year, Fininvest initiated legal proceedings against him, saying that his work for the prosecutors had been negligent and had caused it damage. But after examining Mr Giuffrida in 2002, the prosecutors drew the court's attention to a number of attempts that might have been made to intimidate him.