Byline: CHARLOTTE EAGAR
It was one of those occasions Rome does so well: a scarlet puddle of cardinals seated at the side of the pine coffin laid on the marble steps of St Peter's. Opposite, beyond the dead pope, sat Il Cavaliere, Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy. But unusually for Berlusconi, he wasn't the centre of attention, or even in the front row. There were various crowned Catholic heads - King Juan Carlos of Spain and the Prince of Liechtenstein - followed by other monarchs and presidents: President George W Bush, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Ciampi of Italy, Berlusconi's adversary. Berlusconi, as Prime Minister of Italy, was five rows back, close to his dear friend, our Prime Minister Tony Blair.
It wasn't a good week for Italy's Prime Minister, who also happens to be its richest citizen. It can't have helped that his party, Forza Italia ('Go for it, Italy' - taken from a football chant), had just lost the regional elections with a staggering 45 per cent swing to the leftish opposition. Nor that the Italian magistrates are once again investigating their Prime Minister for corruption; nor that one of his trusted lieutenants, Marcello Dell'Utri, who headed up his advertising company, Publitalia, for years, has just been sentenced to nine years for aiding and abetting the Mafia. That's politics or, in Berlusconi's case, business, because Berlusconi is primarily a self-made TV billionaire who turned to politics late in life.
But what is extraordinary about Berlusconi's current travails are their links to Britain and the heart of New Labour. The key to the latest corruption investigation is the husband of a Labour minister: David Mills, Berlusconi's London lawyer. The 61-year-old husband of Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, is currently under investigation by magistrates in Milan for tax fraud, money laundering and being paid to give false evidence to Italian authorities during an investigation into Berlusconi's affairs in the Nineties. According to documents prepared by the Serious Fraud Office, the Milanese magistrates believe Mills to have …