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Italian report Italian report
by Euro Reporter
2010-04-24 10:06:43
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Mills covered for Berlusconi

British lawyer David Mills covered for Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi during two tax-fraud trials in the late 1990s, Italy's highest appeals court said Wednesday. The Cassation Court's confirmation of its view that Mills did receive a bribe to hush up evidence came in its written explanation of a February definitive verdict in which Mills was not acquitted but saw the crime timed out under Italy's ten-year statute of limitations. On Wednesday the high court explained that it had accepted the findings of an October Milan appeals court verdict that confirmed a lower court's jail term of four and a half years for the lawyer for taking a $600,000 payment for committing perjury.

The court said the money had gone through an account held by former F1 boss Flavio Briatore, a friend of the premier, but that Berlusconi was the "source", upholding the October 27 appeals court ruling. It said that verdict had "a rational structure," based on a key piece of evidence in which Mills, the architect of Fininvest's offshore structure, wrote to his accountant in 2004: ''I saved Mr B. from a great deal of trouble...I told no lies but I turned some very tricky corners". The Cassation Court said the corporate lawyer testified that offshore slush companies could be traced back "generically" to the premier's holding company Fininvest and not to Berlusconi personally. "The fulcrum of David Mills' reticence," the ruling said, "consists of the fact that he only traced the ownership of the offshore companies to Fininvest generically, and not to Silvio Berlusconi personally, thus favouring him".

"This was necessary to personally distance Silvio Berlusconi from the companies in order to dodge taxes and anti-trust norms, also permitting (Fininvest) to hold on to huge profits illegally obtained abroad".  Part of these profits, the high court said, went to Berlusconi's eldest children Marina and Piersilvio, now respectively Fininvest chairman and deputy chairman of its Mediaset media unit, but at the time lower down its corporate ladder.  The two late 1990s trials were respectively dubbed Arces, in which tax inspectors were bribed to stop them digging into Fininvest accounts, and All Iberian, the name of a slush fund which illegally financed the now-defunct Socialist Party of late premier Bettino Craxi. In the latter, the Cassation Court on Wednesday confirmed that All Iberian was used to pay Craxi and noted that Berlusconi had not been acquitted in that case but saw the crime covered by the statute of limitations.

The premier, his children and Fininvest have consistently denied wrongdoing, as has Mills. Berlusconi, who is currently on trial for bribing Mills after the quashing of an immunity law reactivated proceedings against him, has always maintained he is the victim of a politically inspired witch hunt by left-leaning sections of the judiciary. On Wednesday the Cassation Court also said the Milan appeals court had been right to fine Mills 250,000 Euros for "damaging the image" of Italy's government and judicial system. The fine, the only part of the October verdict that was not timed out, was fair because of the extremely high-profile nature of the case, the high court said.


Mideast peace in Berlusconi

The Middle East peace process and Italy's role in the United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL topped the agenda of talks here Tuesday between Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and visiting Lebanese Premier Sad Hariri. "We strongly believe that moderation can overcome extremism...but we must all work together to achieve this," Hariri told a press conference afterwards. "There is no time better than the present, when threats against Lebanon are increasing, to find a solution (in the Middle East)...otherwise the challenges facing us today and the obstacles to peace will increase every day," the Lebanese premier said.

Hariri said he "appreciated" Berlusconi's appeal to the international community at an Arab League meeting last month, praising the "force and passion" of the Italian premier's speech. He added that he was "very happy" that Berlusconi had accepted his invitation to visit Lebanon, "I hope as soon as possible". Hariri also thanked Italy for its "historic role" in hosting diplomatic talks in 2006 that led to the end of the 34-day war with Israel, and in later sending more than 2,000 men and women to the UNIFIL mission which "under Italy's lead has played a key role in assisting our armed forces and maintaining calm and stability on our middle-eastern border".

Berlusconi pledged to keep the troops on the border with Lebanon to "control the activities of Hizbollah".  The Italian premier went on to praise Hariri for taking up the mantle of his father Rafic, assassinated five years ago, "whom I was honoured to call a friend".  Saad Hariri "has shown great courage in leading a country racked by domestic and local conflicts," Berlusconi said, "a country with which we are sincere and convinced friends".  Berlusconi also vowed to help boost cultural and commercial ties, noting that Italy was Lebanon's second-biggest importer after China.


Hard to say ‘arrivederci'

Jacopo Fiaschini has traveled to the U.S. three previous times to visit an uncle in Baltimore, but his current sojourn in Pittsfield has been the most memorable and educational. Fiaschini is among the group of Italian exchange students whose return trip home has been delayed because of the active volcano in Iceland, which has crippled air travel over Europe since Thursday. While the students await a new flight home -- likely by early next week -- they are making the best of the situation.

"My father is happy I have the opportunity to stay another week to improve my English," said Fiaschini. The 18 teenagers -- 15 girls and two other boys -- and their two teachers from Perugia, Italy, were scheduled to fly home on Saturday, which would have culminated an eight-day stay with host families of students from an Italian language class at Pittsfield High School. However, the exchange students could fly home Monday if their airline, British Airways, catches up on a backlog of flights, according to Ester Coppola. Coppola, whose husband, Rino, is Pittsfield High's Italian language teacher, said the host families will continue to house their guests.

Meanwhile, the host couple said the exchange students' parents were meeting Tuesday night to determine a backup plan of getting their children home if air travel to Europe doesn't resume by Monday.  "My parents are anxious for me to come home," said Elena Mencaroni. "But they know I'm staying with a kind family, and there's a very big problem in Europe."

Mencaroni referred to the cloud of volcanic ash that continues to hover over the continent, threatening to damage airplane engines while in flight. The exchange students' unexpected extended stay has become a working vacation. They have resumed their studies and will visit more of the Berkshires this week. The Italian high-scholars are spending three hours a day through Friday at either Williams Elementary School or Pittsfield High preparing for major exams when they return to school in Italy. City school officials have made the buildings available, since local public school students are enjoying their weeklong April vacation.

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