Senator accused of Berlusconi blackmail
An Italian senator has been accused of blackmailing Silvio Berlusconi for more than €40m in return for keeping quiet about the former prime minister's alleged links to the Sicilian mafia.
Prosecutors in Palermo, Sicily, claim that Marcello Dell'Utri extorted the money from Mr Berlusconi over the past decade in exchange for not revealing the "pact" that the billionaire businessman allegedly forged with Cosa Nostra at the start of his political career in the 1990s.
They began investigating earlier this year after becoming suspicious over €21m Mr Berlusconi paid for the purchase of a villa owned by Mr Dell'Utri on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy.
The Palermo prosecutors claim that Mr Berlusconi did a deal with the Cosa Nostra in order to secure votes in Sicily when he launched his Forza Italia political party in 1992 and that Mr Dell'Utri was the middle man. The former prime minister has denied having any links with organised crime groups.
Mr Dell'Utri, one of Mr Berlusconi's oldest friends, who has worked in his Fininvest business empire, is appealing against a conviction for mafia association in a case that has been in the courts since 1997.
He strongly denied the blackmail allegations and described the investigators as "sick" and "pathological".
The accusations come just days after Mr Berlusconi's aides, including the chairman of his People of Freedom Party, said he was preparing to contest the next election, in the hope of becoming prime minister a fourth time.
Mr Berlusconi is not accused of any crime in the alleged blackmail.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)