Italy's High Court: Ex-PM Berlusconi Did Business With Sicilian Mafia for Nearly 20 Years

Ruling comes as judges sentence billionaire's right-hand man to seven years in prison for Cosa Nostra associations; confirms long-time suspicions about tycoon.

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Italy's former PM Berlusconi, Rome, April 24, 2014.
Italy's former PM Berlusconi, Rome, April 24, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Italy's highest court of appeal has confirmed what Italians have long suspected about their billionaire ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – that he had extensive business dealings with the Sicilian Mafia, Britain's The Independent reported Monday.

In sentencing Berlusconi's right-hand man Marcello Dell'Utri to seven years in prison for mafia associations, the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome accepted the prosecution's assertion that “for 18 years, from 1974 to 1992, Marcello Dell’Utri was the guarantor of the agreement between Berlusconi and Cosa Nostra.”

Some 40 former mafia members gave evidence in the Dell'Utri trial that the defendant was Berlusconi’s key go-between with the mafia. One star informant, Giovanni “The Pig” Brusca, testified that Berlusconi gave the mafia as much as $500,000 a year, which was “tied to his business activities in Sicily.”

Berlusconi on Sunday accused the judges of being “biased” against him. “[The rulings] are what the left has tried to do to me since ‘94,” he told the Ansa news agency.

Suspicions have long dogged Berlusconi, 77, that the fortune he made in construction and media in the 1970s and 1980s, prior to his entry into politics, was made possible in part by his Cosa Nostra connections.

In his three terms as prime minister between 1994 and 2011, Berlusconi ruled Italy like a modern-day Roman emperor. But his happy tyrant's manner, numerous trials for corruption, fraud and sex crimes, together with the country's failing economy, finally soured the public on him. When he went to the presidential residence to tender his resignation in 2011, the crowd outside sang the Hallelujah Chorus.

He was convicted of tax fraud last August, and is about to begin serving his sentence – nine months' community service. He is immune to charges regarding his mafia connections as Italy's 20-year statute of limitations has run out on them.

As for Dell'Utri, 72, he fled Italy last month for Lebanon, but was soon arrested there by Interpol agents; Italy will now seek his extradition. Recent media reports had it that during his brief time abroad, Dell'Utri was scouting investments on Berlusconi's behalf.