A convicted Mafia hit man today claimed Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi made a deal with the mob in the 1990s in exchange for political support.
Mr Berlusconi denied the allegations, which have set off the latest storm to rattle the scandal-plagued president.
Gaspare Spatuzza gave evidence as a prosecution witness in the appeals trial of Senator Marcello Dell’Utri, a close political associate of Mr Berlusconi who was convicted in 2004 of ties with the Sicilian Mafia and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Spatuzza, serving a life sentence for several murders, told the court that in 1993 he was told by his boss, Giuseppe Graviano, that the mob had made a deal with Mr Berlusconi that would provide “benefits” to the Mafia in exchange for support in elections.
The media mogul entered politics a few months later and won his first term as premier in 1994 elections.
Most of Spatuzza’s two-hour appearance was carried live on TV.
Mr Berlusconi and Mr Dell’Utri have both branded the allegations ridiculous and denied any links to the Mafia.
Spatuzza addressed the court from behind a white screen set up to conceal him, and surrounded by uniformed and plainclothes police in a high-security Turin courtroom.
Spatuzza was one of the mobsters who took part in a 1993 terror campaign ordered by Graviano, a top Mafia boss in Palermo, which included deadly bombings in Rome, Milan and Florence.
Graviano was arrested in 1994 and convicted of the attacks. Spatuzza was arrested in 1997.
In meetings to plan the 1993 bombings, Graviano confided to Spatuzza that “there is something going on that will give us all benefits, starting with those who are in jail,” the he told judges today.
At a later meeting, in a cafe on Rome’s upmarket Via Veneto, Graviano purportedly told Spatuzza that he had made a deal with Mr Berlusconi, with Mr Dell’Utri acting as a go-between.
“Graviano told me we had obtained all that we wanted thanks to the seriousness of these people” Spatuzza said. “They practically put the country in our hands.”
Spatuzza said the boss confirmed to him that the Mr Berlusconi he was talking about was “the one from Canale 5” – a reference to one of the TV channels that is part of the media magnate’s empire.
Answering questions from prosecutors, Spatuzza said he did not have other details on the purported agreement.
Mr Dell’Utri told reporters after the hearing that the testimony was a political ploy to attack Mr Berlusconi’s government.
Mr Berlusconi has dismissed Spatuzza’s claims as “unbelievable” saying that he is the person “who is farthest away from the Mafia in terms of character, sensibility, mentality, education, culture and political commitment.”
Mr Berlusconi already faces charges of tax fraud and corruption in separate, unrelated trials in Milan.