The husband of cabinet minister Tessa Jowell has been accused of misleading Italian investigators and destroying documents in order to obstruct an inquiry into the business affairs of the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
According to Italian court documents seen by The Observer, international lawyer David Mills allegedly played a key role in the creation and administration of a network of offshore companies that were at the heart of the fraud.
Mills is accused of suspected tax fraud and money laundering. He is one of 14 suspects for whom Milan prosecutors are imminently expected to seek a trial. Mills and Berlusconi both deny the allegations.
Prosecutors claim Berlusconi used a complex network of offshore companies to artificially boost the price of the films broadcast on his three national television channels, draining some £190 million of profit into foreign bank accounts and evading Italian taxes. Berlusconi allegedly enlisted the help of colourful middlemen to pull off the fraud, and several high-profile figures have been named in the court documents.
From the early 1990s Mills provided legal and financial services to Berlusconi's Fininvest Group, which is at the heart of the inquiry. Prosecutors claim that Mills personally signed many contracts that helped Berlusconi avoid taxes.
Culture Secretary Jowell said her husband was unavailable to comment on the new allegations but his position was unchanged since he issued a statement a month ago describing the accusations as 'unjust' and 'groundless'.
At that time Mills said: 'The prosecutors know that I was never a signatory on any of the accounts in question and that I had no knowledge, or means of knowledge, of what transactions were taking place on them. There is therefore no evidence for the charge and I expect it to be thrown out before any trial begins.'
As Italian investigators probed Berlusconi's affairs, documents suggest that Mills appears to have found himself uncomfortably torn between his duty of confidentiality towards an important client and the increasingly insistent demands of Italian justice. Mills appeared to be co-operating with the investigation, the prosecutors wrote in their report, but they believe 'there were reasonable grounds to believe that he actually concealed and destroyed important documents and that he provided misleading responses when interrogated'.
The prosecutors say that documents relevant to their investigation were removed from Edsaco Ltd, a company that took over CMM in 1994 and where Mills continued as a director, on three occasions in 1995 and 1996. The prosecutors claim 'there is evidence that Mills destroyed three boxes of files of Fininvest companies that he had received from Edsaco after that company decided to withdraw its services in 1996'.
The Milan prosecutors claim that Mills may even have 'committed perjury when he was questioned by international rogatory at Bow Street Magistrate's Court in London on March 13 2003'.