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Berlusconi accused by Mafia hitman

December 4, 2009

by Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: December 4 2009

Italy’s centre-right government on Friday was rocked by accusations made in court by a Mafia hitman that Silvio Berlusconi had made commitments to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as he was about to enter politics 15 years ago.

Testifying behind a screen in a high security court in Turin, Gaspare Spatuzza, a Mafia turncoat, claimed he had been told by a top Sicilian mobster in January 2004 that Mr Berlusconi and his long-time business associate, Marcello Dell’Utri, had given “everything” the Mafia had wanted.

“Thanks to the seriousness of these people, they have practically put the country in our hands,” Mr Spatuzza quoted Giuseppe Graviano as saying.

The prime minister’s office rejected the allegations, accusing Mr Spatuzza of seeking to sabotage the government’s crackdown on Cosa Nostra.

In spite of questions over the reliability of Mr Spatuzza, who is serving a life sentence for two murders, and the lack of detail in his accusations, the case is fuelling existing divisions in Mr Berlusconi’s coalition and is likely to exacerbate a war between the prime minister and judges he accuses of waging a political witch-hunt.

Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of parliament who is both an ally and a rival for power, has described Mr Spatuzza’s claims as an “atomic bomb”.

Adding to the image of a prime minister under siege, the court proceedings were broadcast live by Sky Italia, a satellite network owned by Rupert Murdoch, who Mr Berlusconi – a 73-year-old billionaire with his own media empire – has accused of joining the battle against him for commercial reasons.

Mr Spatuzza spoke at the appeal hearing of Mr Dell’Utri, a senator fighting a nine-year jail sentence imposed by a lower court for alleged Mafia association. Mr Dell’Utri denied the accusations and accused Cosa Nostra of trying to bring down the government.

Mr Berlusconi is involved in two trials of his own after the constitutional court removed his immunity from prosecution. On Friday, his lawyers told a Milan court that his presence at a cabinet meeting prevented him from attending a hearing where he is accused of corrupting the course of justice.

Mr Berlusconi has ruled out resignation or early elections. An investigation that followed similar allegations by another Mafia turncoat in the 1990s ended for lack of evidence.

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