Dell'Utri 'extortion' probe moved to Milan

Berlusconi's ex-aide accused of blackmail on alleged Mafia ties

Dell'Utri 'extortion' probe moved to Milan

(ANSA) - Rome, September 26 - A probe in which a former business and political ally of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, Marcello Dell'Utri, is accused of extorting money from him was moved from Palermo to Milan Wednesday. Prosecutors at Italy's highest court of appeal, the Cassation Court, upheld a petition by Berlusconi's lawyers and a recommendation by Italy's anti-Mafia head prosecutor, Piero Grasso. Palermo prosecutors did not object, calling the Cassation Court's ruling a "technical decision". Earlier this month Palermo prosecutors questioned Berlusconi for three hours in Rome. Prosecutors are investigating Dell'Utri over allegations he blackmailed Berlusconi to stay silent about the media magnate's alleged relations to the Mafia. Berlusconi, who is not under investigation in this case, had previously invoked a so-called "legitimate impediment" rule to avoid questioning. Berlusconi's daughter Marina, the president of the family holding company Fininvest and of its publishing group Mondadori, was questioned by prosecutors in July. She is thought to have been asked about two loans made to Dell'Utri in 2003 for a total of over 1.1 million euros from an account held jointly with her father. In a separate case, Dell'Utri is set to have a retrial after receiving a seven-year jail sentence for allegedly helping the Mafia. The Court of Cassation in March ordered the retrial, saying Dell'Utri's legal rights had not been respected in the first appeals trial against the original conviction. But in its explanation of its decision to order a retrial, it said there was evidence that Dell'Utri had acted as an intermediary with the Mafia for the ex-premier, handing on "substantial sums" of money for protection. Dell'Utri is a Senator in the ex-premier's People of Freedom party, which he is credited with helping to create in late 1993 in its original form, Forza Italia.

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