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Court upholds conviction of Berlusconi ally

June 30, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome published: June 30 2010

An appeals court in Sicily on Tuesday upheld a conviction for mafia association against Marcello Dell’Utri, a senator in Italy’s ruling People of Liberty party and a long-time ally of Silvio Berlusconi.

But the Palermo court said that it found no evidence of mafia links after 1992, a ruling that in effect helps the prime minister fight long-standing allegations, made by mafia turncoats and his political rivals, that his entry into politics with Mr Dell’Utri in 1994 was abetted by Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia.

Mr Dell’Utri’s sentence, passed in 2004 after a trial that began in the 1990s, was reduced to seven years from nine. The senator from Palermo, a former head of Mr Berlusconi’s Publitalia advertising firm, told reporters in Milan that he intended to make a final appeal to a higher court. He has repeatedly denied the charges.

Mr Dell’Utri had been accused of having close contact with the mafia between 1974 and 1994. Mr Berlusconi was not part of the trial but last December a convicted former mafia hitman, Gaspare Spatuzza, testified in court that his mafia boss had spoken of deals with Mr Berlusconi and the senator.

“Thanks to the seriousness of these people, they have practically put the country in our hands,” Mr Spatuzza quoted Giuseppe Graviano, his mafia godfather, as saying in January 1994. The court’s ruling on Tuesday indicated the bench of three judges did not believe Mr Spatuzza.

Giuseppe Di Peri, a defence lawyer for the senator, said the ruling dashed speculation and claims that the mafia had infiltrated political institutions from 1992 when Cosa Nostra launched a vicious bombing campaign that claimed the lives of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two anti-mafia magistrates.

The court is to release a full explanation of its findings within 90 days.

Mr Dell’Utri suggested to reporters that the trial was politically motivated, saying it would never have happened if he and Mr Berlusconi had not entered politics by founding Forza Italia and winning general elections in 1994. He likened the verdict to the one passed by Pontius Pilate in condemning Jesus.

But the senator risked stirring further controversy by describing Vittorio Mangano, a convicted Mafia boss as “my hero” for having refused to give what the senator said would have been false testimony against him and Mr Berlusconi.

Mr Mangano worked for Mr Berlusconi at his villa near Milan in the 1970s after being introduced by Mr Dell’Utri. Mr Mangano was convicted on various charges from the 1980s onwards, including drug-trafficking, extortion and murder. He died in prison in 2000.

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