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Berlusconi uses aide to pay mafia for protection,says Italian court

(Xinhua)

08:03, April 25, 2012

ROME, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi paid large sums of money to the Sicilian mafia in order to protect him and his family in the 1970s through a close associate, the country's highest court said on Tuesday.

The Court of Cassation said Senator Marcello Dell'Utri, a former aide of Berlusconi, was the "go-between" for Berlusconi who paid the Cosa Nostra "substantial sums" of money to guarantee his safety.

"Berlusconi handed over conspicuous sums of money to the mafia," the court said in a 146-page document outlining the reasons for its decision last month to quash a trial against Dell'Utri, a Sicilian who worked for Berlusconi at that time.

In its judgement on Tuesday, the court noted there was an agreement to "guarantee the freedom of movement and activities" of Berlusconi while noting he was the "victim" of extortion.

Although the former prime minister is mentioned in the court ruling, he was not involved in the case.

Berlusconi, 75, is one of Italy's richest men and has long been the subject of claims that he was associated with the mafia since he built his business career from humble beginnings.

In the court document, the judges said that there was ample evidence about Dell'Utri's alleged mafia dealings, including the employment of Berlusconi's stable manager, Vittorio Mangano, at his luxury villa at Arcore outside Milan in 1974.

Mangano, a Sicilian mobster who was later convicted of murder, died of natural causes in 2000.

He was allegedly hired to protect Berlusconi and his family after a wave of kidnappings that targeted wealthy industrialists and their children.

The judges said that Mangano's job was decided when Berlusconi met mafia bosses Francesco Di Carlo and Stefano Bontate at a Milan office in 1974.

Berlusconi, who has been dogged by sex and corruption scandals for years, was forced to resign over Italy's debt crisis last November and was replaced by technocrat Mario Monti.

The court overturned Senator Dell'Utri's conviction by two lower courts for colluding with Cosa Nostra and called for a retrial.

His lawyer, Massimo Krogh, welcomed the decision saying the court had recognized there was no psychological motivation to suggest the senator had committed a crime.

Dell'Utri had previously been sentenced to seven years in prison but has never served any jail time.

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