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Italy

Berlusconi associate's conviction upheld

An Italian court has upheld the conviction of retired parliamentarian Marcello Dell'Utri for ties to the Sicilian Mafia. Dell'Utri is a close associate of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Dell'Utri was not present when Italy's highest appeals court upheld his seven-year prison sentence on Friday. He had fled to Lebanon last month in order to avoid arrest.

The close Berlusconi associate (pictured center) is currently in police custody at a hospital in Beirut while Italian authorities seek his extradition.

In 2010, a Palermo court convicted Dell'Utri of acting as a mediator between the Sicilian Mafia and the Milan business elite from 1974-1992. The decision by the Court of Cassation on Friday means his conviction is now final and can no longer be appealed.

"We are disappointed by this decision," defense lawyer Giuseppe Di Peri said, announcing that he would seek an appeal before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Dell'Utri has been friends with Berlusconi since they were university classmates in Milan during the early 1960s. He went on to run the advertising arm of Berlusconi's media empire from 1984-1995.

Dell'Utri helped Berlusconi found the political party Forza Italia and was elected to the Italian parliament three times as a party member. He later served as a member of the European Parliament.

Mob ties among Berlusconi associates

Recently, several of Berlusconi's associates have come under pressure from the law for mob ties. Claudio Scajola, a former interior and industry minister under Berlusconi, was arrested in Rome on Thursday. He is accused of helping a former party member, with alleged ties to the mob, flee police.

Nicola Cosentino, the former undersecretary in the Economy Ministry under Berlusconi, was arrested last month. He is accused of colluding with the Mafia to quash competition against his family's gasoline business in Naples.

Berlusconi, for his part, was convicted for tax fraud last year and sentenced to four years in prison. But the 77-year-old's sentence was subsequently commuted to one year, which he is fulfilling through community service at a retirement home.

slk/tj, ipj (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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