London, March 14 (ANI): Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi once met a mafia godfather to ask for his family's protection, according to testimony collected by crime prosecutors.
Mafia insiders say the meeting took place in Milan in 1974 at the offices of Berlusconi's property company. The informants claim Berlusconi, who was already a wealthy entrepreneur by then, met Stefano Bontade, a leading mafia boss, because of fears for his family's safety at a time when kidnappings of high-profile people were common in Italy.
Francesco Di Carlo, one of Bontade's sidekicks currently in jail, told prosecutors he was at the meeting. He claims Berlusconi wanted help to ensure that other mafia gangs would not abduct him or his children.
According to Di Carlo, Bontade promised that he would personally guarantee Berlusconi's safety. In return, Berlusconi told Bontade that he was "at his disposal, for anything".
Anti-mafia prosecutors believe Marcello Dell'Utri, Berlusconi's friend and business partner, arranged the meeting.Now a senator, Dell'Utri was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment in 2004 for aiding and abetting the mafia. However, he is still free and denies the charges. Both he and Berlusconi deny having met Bontade. But the prosecution believes Di Carlo's testimony, which was corroborated by another mafia boss.
"In our view Dell'Utri had very close contact with the mafia. He acted as an ambassador for the mafia, representing its interests among Italy's wealthy entrepreneurs," the Times quoted Domenico Gozzo, a key member of the prosecution team in the Dell'Utri trial, as saying.
Gozzo added: "Instead of turning to the police, Berlusconi turned to Dell'Utri when he became worried about security. He asked his friend to find a solution. Dell'Utri did so during a meeting with the then mafia head, Stefano Bontade, in which Berlusconi took part. Bontade promised to send a person to protect Berlusconi and his family. Why? Because Berlusconi became of interest to the Cosa Nostra, first as an entrepreneur and later as a politician."
Soon after the alleged meeting with Bontade, Berlusconi hired Vittorio Mangano, a mafia member.
Mangano's official job was to look after Berlusconi's luxury estate at Arcore, outside Milan. He lived there for two years, driving the tycoon's kids to school.
Prosecutors say Mangano was the man Bontade provided to guard Berlusconi and his family. However, Berlusconi and Dell'Utri say they had no knowledge that Mangano was a criminal even as he was arrested twice while working for Berlusconi.
Gozzo said: "Mangano was already a convicted criminal when Berlusconi took him in."
In 2000 Mangano, who was in jail for drug trafficking, was found guilty of double murder. He died before his appeal could be heard. Berlusconi and Dell'Utri have since dubbed him a hero because he did not make false allegations against them.
In 2008 Berlusconi said: "Mangano was a person who behaved very well with us.
"He then had some problems with the law but I'm not aware of him having ever been found guilty for good." (ANI)