Naples

Berlusconi Campania ex-chief on trial in Casalesi case

Cosentino accused of pressing Unicredit to fund clan-linked mall

Berlusconi Campania ex-chief on trial in Casalesi case

Naples, November 20 - The former head of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party in Campania was sent to trial Tuesday for allegedly helping the Casalesi clan of the Naples Camorra mafia invest in a shopping mall near Caserta. PdL MP Nicola Cosentino, a former economy undersecretary, denies wrongdoing in the case, whose first hearing was on Tuesday set for January 23. Cosentino stood down as PdL coordinator in Campania, the region around Naples, in January, shortly after the House rejected a request from Naples prosecutors to arrest him on suspicion of corruption and collusion with the Casalesis. He is accused of pressuring members of Italy's largest bank Unicredit into providing financing for the construction of the sprawling mall, a project with alleged ties to the Casalesis. The Casalesis, whose fugitive leader Michele Zagaria was arrested last December, became known to the international public thanks to writer Roberto Saviano's bestselling 2006 book Gomorrah, later turned into a successful film that won second prize at Cannes in 2008. Naples prosecutors claim Cosentino was the "national reference point" for the Casalesis, who have extensive interests in northern Italy, northern Europe, Australia and Canada. Cosentino quit as undersecretary in July 2010 after allegations of being part of a lobby that aimed to influence high-court judges in Berlusconi's favour. But the former undersecretary long clung on to his post as the PdL's leader in Campania. Cosentino was also accused by prosecutors in 2009 of links with the Camorra but parliament rejected an arrest warrant and Berlusconi turned down his proffered resignations from both his posts. Cosentino has been supportedby Berlusconi, who has consistently attacked prosecutors for their alleged political aims, and the ex-undersecretary went on a Berlusconi TV channel ahead of the House vote in January to reject any ties to the Casalesis. He and other members have contended that the charges against him essentially boil down to money laundering, which he also denies.

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