Wednesday, February 18, 2009

David Mills sentenced to jail for accepting Berlusconi bribe

Richard Owen -
David Mills, the estranged husband of Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, was sentenced to 4½ years in jail yesterday for accepting a $600,000 bribe from the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, to give false evidence in corruption trials.
Mills was not in court for the verdict, having exercised his right under Italian law not to appear in person throughout the three-year trial, which followed six years of investigations.
He said in a statement that he was disappointed by the outcome and hoped that he would be cleared on appeal. “I am innocent, but this is a highly political case,” he said. “The judges have not yet given their reasons for their decision so I cannot say how they dealt with the prosecutor’s own admission that he had no proof.”
Mills, who was also ordered to pay €25,000 (£22,000) in costs, is unlikely to serve a jail term because by the time the appeals process has been exhausted the period allowed for a definitive sentence may have expired. The statue of limitations runs out in February 2010, ten years after the offence is deemed to have been committed.
Appeals normally take at least two years. But Fabio De Pasquale, the chief prosecutor, told The Times that he believed the appeals process could be completed before the statue of limitations ran out in a year’s time, “if they get a move on”.
Mills said: “The sentence does not become effective for any purpose until two levels of appeal have been concluded. Meanwhile, I am getting on with my professional life.”
Federico Cecconi, Mills’s Italian defence lawyer, said that he would bring an initial appeal in Milan and, if necessary, a further appeal to the Supreme Court. He said that the sentence went “against the logic and dynamic of the evidence presented”.
The prosecutor said that Mills, 64, used the bribe – worth £350,000 at the time – to pay off a loan secured on a home that he owned with Ms Jowell in London. Mills has denied any wrongdoing.
Ms Jowell was cleared of breaking ministerial rules after Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, and Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, accepted her explanation that her husband had not told her about the money until four years later. She said yesterday: “This is a terrible blow for David, and although we are separated I have never doubted his innocence.”
Mr Berlusconi, 72, had also been a defendant until a law last June gave him immunity from prosecution as Prime Minister. He says that all the legal moves against him are politically motivated. He has put forward further legislation stating that if immunity were ever lifted, the conviction of Mills and the evidence on which it is based could not be used against him.
Mr Berlusconi’s personal lawyers had objected to Mills being tried alone, saying that if he were found guilty, the Prime Minister would be deemed guilty by association. Some commentators said that this would damage Mr Berlusconi’s hopes of becoming head of state after his five-year term as Prime Minister.
Mills was accused of accepting the bribe from Mr Berlusconi for testimony that he gave as a tax lawyer in two corruption trials in 1997 and 1998. In a letter in 2004 Mills told his accountant, Bob Drennan: “I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly, and so kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble he would have been in had I said all I knew.”
Last month, in a statement to the court, Mills said that he had “never been corrupted by anyone” and apologised to Mr Berlusconi for causing him “trouble”. However, Gabriella Vanadia, a lawyer for the Prime Minister’s office, but not Mr Berlusconi personally, sided with the prosecution and told the court that the State accepted the allegation that Mills had taken the bribe.
Mills is the brother-in-law of Dame Barbara Mills, QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions and of the Serious Fraud Office.

February 18, 2009

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