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TV documentary discloses Berlusconi’s bank deposits

November 16, 2009

by Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published on the Financial Times: November 16 2009

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s billionaire prime minister, and his family hold more than €60m in accounts registered with the Milan branch of a Swiss bank that is under investigation for money laundering, a television programme claimed last night.

The programme, Report, state television’s highest profile documentary series, focused on Bank Arner, a Swiss bank based in Lugano. The Milan branch is under investigation by prosecutors for suspected money laundering. Its management was taken over last year by the Bank of Italy, the central bank, which also suspected money laundering, according to bank documents.

Mr Berlusconi’s use of Arner, a boutique bank founded by Paolo Del Bue, a business associate, had been revealed in previous court cases involving the prime minister’s Fininvest media empire. Italian media reports refer to Arner as the “Berlusconi family bank”. Arner could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The documentary, presented by Milena Gabanelli and researched by Paolo Mondani, is the first report to put a figure on Mr Berlusconi’s deposits, alleging he held more than €10m (£9m) at the branch. His son, Piersilvio, head of the family’s Mediaset television group, and his daughter, Marina, head of the Mondadori publishing company, were said to hold about €50m. No source was given.

In the programme, Ms Gabanelli says that while having deposits in the bank did not indicate the funds were about to leave the country, this would be an “appropriate moment” for the prime minister to move his family’s money “into an Italian bank with a little more transparency”.

Broadcast on Rai, the state television network, Report has large audience figures. Its disclosures are likely to refocus public attention on Mr Berlusconi’s business interests and the impact of a sweeping amnesty for Italian tax evaders with money in foreign banks, as a Milan court prepares to reopen a trial involving the prime minister, Mr Del Bue and others linked to Mediaset.

Mr Berlusconi denies charges linked to tax fraud in Mediaset’s acquisition of US film and television rights. Mr Del Bue, who was reported to have stepped down as head of Bank Arner in 2005, has denied money-laundering charges.

The trial was suspended last year when Mr Berlusconi was given immunity by an act of parliament. The trial had been due to resume today following a ruling last month by Italy’s highest court that the act was unconstitutional

Mr Berlusconi’s office had no immediate comment yesterday. Niccolo Ghedini, his lawyer, responding to an earlier newspaper report about Bank Arner, stated that hundreds of judicial requests for documentation had shown “beyond all doubt” that the Berlusconi family held no funds outside Italy.

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