Berlusconi denies blackmailed by mafia, payments were ‘gift’ - Pakistan Today

Berlusconi denies blackmailed by mafia, payments were ‘gift’

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, involved in a mafia extortion probe, has defended giving millions of euros (dollars) to an aide as merely “helping out a good friend in need,” Italian media reported Thursday.
The ex-premier, who was questioned by a court on Wednesday as a witness in a case dating to the 1970s when he was allegedly blackmailed by the mafia, paid Marcello Dell’Utri over 40 million euros ($50 million) over the last decade.
The billionaire is suspected of giving Dell’Utri hush money to stop him spilling details of alleged ties between Berlusconi and organised crime groups.
“Dell’Utri is a brotherly friend, we’ve known each other for many years and he put my first football team together,” he told magistrates according to the Corriere della Sera daily, referring to football club AC Milan, which he owns.
“He also has the enormous merit of having founded (Berlusconi’s advertising firm) Publitalia. Naturally I feel in his debt and there has always been a tacit understanding that I would acknowledge these merits,” he said.
The three-hour questioning focused on the sale of a villa on Lake Como, which Berlusconi bought from Dell’Utri last year for 21 million euros, though it had been valued at 9.5 million euros, Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper said.
The media magnate was also interrogated over other payments to the Italian senator, as well as another villa which Berlusconi gave Dell’Utri the money to buy, before paying for refurbishments which saw it sell at a vast mark-up.
“It was a gift. It’s not the first time I’ve give a present to an ex-manager from my group,” Berlusconi said according to Il Fatto, insisting: “I’ve never felt threatened by Marcello, I feel only gratitude and respect for him.”
Magistrates also quizzed the 75-year-old tycoon over Vittorio Mangano, a Sicilian mafioso who worked as a stable keeper at Berlusconi’s villa Arcore in the 1970s on Dell’Utri’s recommendation and who was later convicted for murder.
The ex-premier is suspected of having been forced to hire Mangano to appease the mafia and ensure his family’s safety in a period rife with kidnappings.
“Marcello recommended him as a stable keeper. He seemed a well-bred person, pleasant,” Berlusconi told the magistrates, according to the media reports.
He denied paying protection money to the mafia via Dell’Utri, who has also strongly rejected the accusation he blackmailed his former boss.



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