BEIRUT: Presidential hopeful Amine Gemayel Monday denied reports that Russia had asked former premier Silvio Berlusconi to send his aide, who was arrested in Beirut last week, to help his election campaign.
“This news is totally untrue and it has been disseminated to cause disarray,” said a statement from the Kataeb leader’s office.
The denial was in response to a story Sunday in Italian daily La Repubblica that quoted Berlusconi as telling members of his Forza Italia! party that he had sent Marcello Dell’Ultri to Lebanon at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin to help Gemayel win the upcoming election.
Dell’Ultri was arrested in a Beirut hotel last week on an Interpol arrest warrant after being declared a fugitive in Italy a few days earlier. Although he made a statement Friday saying that he was abroad seeking medical treatment, Italian authorities believe he was trying to escape ahead of a final verdict Tuesday in a long-running trial that sees him accused of working with the mafia. He could face several years in prison if found guilty.
Dell’Ultri is currently being held by the Internal Security Forces at their Information Branch in east Beirut. Under a bilateral accord dating back to 1975, Italy has 30 days to issue an extradition request.