News Column

6 Arrested in Alleged Berlusconi Blackmail Plot

Nov. 19, 2012

A gang of criminals briefly kidnapped Silvio Berlusconi's accountant in order to blackmail the billionaire-turned-politician, police said Monday in announcing six arrests.

Giuseppe Spinelli and his wife were held at gunpoint in their home outside Milan for 11 hours on October 15-16, authorities said.

The kidnappers wanted 35 million euros (45 million dollars) in return for handing over documents that they claimed could help overturn a court ruling in which Berlusconi's media company, Mediaset, was ordered to pay 560 million euros in damages to Carlo De Benedetti, a business rival.

The gang allegedly said they had footage showing parliament speaker Gianfranco Fini - a former Berlusconi ally that has turned against the former premier - meeting judges and pressuring them to issue a guilty verdict against Mediaset.

Spinelli and his wife were freed after the accountant called Berlusconi to inform him about the kidnappers' requests, police said. Authorities were informed later about what had happened by Berlusconi's lawyers.

"They did not have anything in their hands," Berlusconi lawyer Nicolo Ghedini told reporters after the arrests were made public.

Police told reporters in Milan that no ransom was paid, and the compromising material that the kidnappers claimed to have had was never found. But the judge who ordered the arrests wrote on the warrant that 8 million euros may have changed hands.

Kidnappers mentioned that figure in wire-tapped telephone conversations, the judge wrote. But he also acknowledged that they money may have come from "other illicit affairs."

The gang, made up of three Italians and three Albanians, was headed by 51-year-old Francesco Leone, a former member of the Apulian branch of the mafia, the Sacra Corona Unita, with previous convictions for robbery and kidnapping, police said.

Spinelli, 71, is thought to be one of Berlusconi's most trusted aides. In May, he testified in court that he regularly paid showgirls on Berlusconi's behalf, including dancer Karima el-Mahroug, also known as Ruby Rubacuori (Heart Stealer).

The former premier is currently being tried for allegedly having paid for sex with el-Mahroug while she was still a minor, and pressuring the police to release her after she had been held on suspicion of theft, claiming she was a niece of then Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak.

El-Mahroug is to appear as a witness for the defence on December 10, Berlusconi's lawyers said Monday, after a court hearing in Milan.

During proceedings, two other showgirls said Berlusconi was paying them 2,500 euros a month, but rejected suggestions that they offered sex in return.

"It is a struggle to be seen in public because everybody says 'bunga bunga' at me," one of the girls, Marianna Ferrera, told judges.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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