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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006, 16:27 GMT
The Mills-Jowell case seen from Italy
By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

In Italy, political corruption has been for many centuries a way of life.

Silvio Berlusconi
Many corruption cases have been brought against Mr Berlusconi

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in anger 500 years ago that corrupt leaders discredit their governments.

A mere decade ago, the political parties which had governed in Rome since the fall of Fascism - Christian Democrats, Socialists and Communists - all imploded as a result of a huge corruption scandal involving businessmen and politicians called "Tangentopoli", or "Bribesville".

The billionaire businessman and now prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, whose political career took off in the wake of this scandal, is seeking re-election next month.

He has faced trial on several occasions on corruption charges relating to the period before he went into politics.

In every case he has either been found not guilty or has benefited from prescription laws, but now he faces possible trial on new corruption charges in a case also involving his former British lawyer and financial adviser, David Mills.

Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Uninterested press

Mr Mills, an expert on setting up international offshore tax-avoidance schemes, advised the Italian prime minister in the 1980s and 1990s on the setting up of a labyrinth of foreign-based companies within his Fininvest financial empire.

David Mills
Mr Mills dealings with Mr Berlusconi are under scrutiny in Italy

This long preamble may explain why news from London of the latest twists and turns in the Mills-Jowell affair has scarcely raised any eyebrows in Italy.

On Thursday, La Repubblica's front page story quoted British newspapers saying prosecutors currently considering the corruption case involving Mr Mills had allegedly written to the British authorities accusing them of obstructing Italian justice.

On Friday, La Repubblica denied reports, also from London, that the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Justice in Rome had asked for Mr Mills' extradition to Italy under the European arrest warrant at the request of Milan prosecutors.

By Saturday, the Italian press seemed to have lost interest in the story.

Discretion

Italy is a country in which libel laws and sanctions against the disclosure of court proceedings which are subjudice are much weaker than in Britain.

Italian television viewers and newspaper readers are accustomed to being fed much juicier detail about alleged political corruption cases than could be published in Britain.

The solicitor representing Mr Mills - who announced on Saturday in London the decision by the couple to separate - accused Italian prosecutors of "feeding information to the press with the intention of trying the case in the media rather than by due process".

Prosecutors here do occasionally leak court documents to the press, but the experience of reporters covering the current case involving Mr Mills and Mr Berlusconi has been that they have been observing considerable discretion in their relations with the media.



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