Jowell's husband could face 12 years in jail

Last updated at 10:11 28 October 2005

The husband of Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell could be jailed for up to 12 years in Italy if found guilty of allegations of tax fraud and money laundering.

Company lawyer David Mills is alleged to have set up offshore firms that helped Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi's media company avoid tax liability on TV rights.

Besides Mr Mills and Berlusconi, twelve other people also face possible charges of money laundering and tax fraud.

The pre-trial hearing in Milan's central court will be heard in front of judge Fabio Paparella, who will decide if there is enough evidence to proceed.

The hearing follows a three year investigation by Milan-based prosecutors Fabio De Pasquale and Alfredo Robledo.

If the case against him proceeds and he is found guilty Mr Mills could be sentenced to 12 years in jail.

He has been a close friend of Berlusconi for many years, and in the 1990's set up a network of offshore companies for him.

It is alleged that through these companies, American TV rights were bought at inflated prices and more than £40million in tax was evaded as a result.

Besides the current case, Mr Mills also faces a separate investigation into allegations that he gave false evidence when questioned by prosecutors.

The case centres on media tycoon Berlusconi's TV company Mediaset, and is the latest of a series of corruption trials he has faced.

However, despite numerous court cases, Berlusconi has never been formally convicted of anything.

Both he and Mr Mills deny any wrong doing, and the London-based lawyer has stressed his innocence several times.

Tonight there was no answer at his office in St James, central London, but he did respond to an email by saying: "Thank you but I am not giving any interviews."

His Milan based lawyer Fabio Cecconi said: "My client denies any wrongdoing. He will not be attending this hearing, but I shall of course keep him informed of developments."

Under Italian law Mr Mills does not have to appear in person and can be tried in his absence.

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