Members of an Italian gang have been arrested on suspicion of taking hostage Silvio Berlusconi’s accountant as part of a plot to extort 35 million euros (£28 million) from the former prime minister.Police said Giuseppe Spinelli, 71, one of the ex-premier’s most trusted confidantes, was taken hostage with his wife Anna by the gang, which consisted of three Italians and three Albanians, in their home last month.
Three members of the gang allegedly forced their way into the Spinellis’ apartment near Monza, north of Milan, at around 10pm on Oct 15. The other three are believed to have been keeping watch and providing backup.
Early the following day they forced Mr Spinelli to call Mr Berlusconi, demanding 35 million euros ransom in return for their release.
They allegedly offered to give Mr Berlusconi documents which they said would overturn a guilty verdict that one of his companies had received in a corruption case.
The company, Fininvest, was ordered last year to pay 560 million euros to a rival business group, Mondadori, as compensation for engaging in corrupt practices in a takeover bid.
“In reality, they had nothing (to offer),” Nicolo Ghedini, one of Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers, said on Monday.
The gang had reportedly tracked Mr Spinelli’s daily routine for months.
After making the threats and keeping the accountant and his wife hostage overnight, they left, removing surveillance tapes from the building as they went.
Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers did not alert police to the alleged extortion bid until at least 24 hours afterwards, Italian media reported.
“Spinelli was in such shock that he did not say he had been held hostage straightaway. He feared for the lives of his wife and daughter,” said Mr Ghedini. “He was terrified – he was threatened with a gun.” The case is being investigated by police and prosecutors in Milan.
All six members of the gang, who were aged between 28 and 51, had criminal records, police said.
Mr Spinelli, a trusted member of Mr Berlusconi’s inner circle, is known in Italy for allegedly giving tens of thousands of euros in cash to young women in exchange for them attending the then prime minister’s parties at his mansion outside Milan. He also helped pay their rent.
The so-called bunga bunga parties are at the heart of a trial in Milan in which the billionaire tycoon is accused of abuse of office and paying for sex with an allegedly under age prostitute, a Moroccan dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer.
Mr Berlusconi denies the charges, saying that the parties were simply “elegant dinners” in which young women put on “burlesque” performances.
The trial, which resumed on Monday, was adjourned until Nov 26.
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