BEIRUT: Silvio Berlusconi’s former aide, who was arrested in a Beirut hotel last week, was sent by the former premier at the request of Russia to help Kataeb leader Amine Gemayel win the Lebanese presidential election, according to an Italian newspaper.
“Marcello [Dell’Ultri] is in Lebanon and I sent him,” La Repubblica quoted Berlusconi as telling members of his Forza Italia! party. “I sent him to Beirut a few days ago because [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has asked me to support the campaign of Amine Gemayel.”
Gemayel could not immediately be reached for comment.
Dell’Utri, who is being tried in Italy for his alleged connection to the Sicilian Mafia, was detained Friday on an Interpol arrest warrant after Rome declared him a fugitive early last week. The final verdict in the case is due Tuesday, and Dell’Utri could face several years in prison if found guilty.
Exactly why Dell’Utri is in Lebanon has been the subject of much debate. The 72-year-old issued a statement Friday saying he was overseas to obtain medical treatment and was not escaping justice, but did not specify where.
Other reports have suggested that his arrival was the first step in an elaborate escape plan involving Guinea-Buissau in West Africa.
Berlusconi’s statement adds a bizarre twist to a case that will be examined by Lebanese authorities this week, as Italian officials press for his extradition under a bilateral agreement that has been in force since 1975, according to La Repubblica.
Exactly how Dell’Utri would be able to help Gemayel, who was president from 1982-88 and is seeking re-election this year, is unclear, and La Repubblica’s report did not elaborate on why Putin would want Berlusconi to help the Kataeb Party.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 14, 2014, on page 3.