Cables: Secret deals profited Berlusconi

Dec. 2, 2010 at 2:00 PM
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ROME, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. diplomats suspected Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi profited "handsomely" from secret deals with Russia, cables released by WikiLeaks indicated.

U.S. Ambassador to Italy Ronald P. Spogli, exasperated by Berlusconi's pro-Russian behavior, detailed allegations the Italian leader was promised a cut of huge energy contracts by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations said.

This is the first time allegations of a financial link between Berlusconi and Putin surfaced, although two men are known to be personally close, Britain's Guardian said.

Spogli said in a Jan. 26, 2009, cable Berlusconi had taken "single-handed" control of Italy's dealings with Moscow and had become a Putin "mouthpiece," supporting him with Russia was criticized.

But "contacts in both the opposition center-left PD [Partito Democratico] and Berlusconi's own PdL [People of Freedom] party ... have hinted at a more nefarious connection," Spogli's cable said. "They believe that Berlusconi and his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely from many of the energy deals between Italy and Russia."

"The Georgian ambassador in Rome has told us that the GOG [government of Georgia] believes Putin has promised Berlusconi a percentage of profits from any pipelines developed by Gazprom in coordination with ENI," the cable said.

Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas extractor and Russia's largest company, is partly privatized, but the Russian government holds a controlling stake.

Eni SpA, an Italian multinational oil and gas company present in 70 countries, is Italy's largest industrial company. The Italian government owns a 30 percent golden share in the company.

The companies work in close collaboration.

Berlusconi Thursday denied the cables' claims.

"The [United States] is quite clear that I have absolutely no interest in any other country; that there are absolutely no personal interests, and that I only look after the interests of the Italians and my country," Berlusconi told the ANSA news agency while on a visit to Kazakhstan.

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