Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is not being investigated in connection with a Mafia bomb attack in Florence in 1993, a court said on Saturday after reports that he was being probed on the evidence of a mobster turned witness.
With the Italian media buzzing with reports that Berlusconi and an associate would be linked to the Mafia by a mob informant in open court on Friday Dec. 4, the prime minister's spokesman has also denied that Berlusconi is being probed.
After right-wing daily Libero wrote on Saturday that the premier and a senator who has been convicted of association with the Cosa Nostra, Marcello Dell'Utri, were being investigated, a Florence magistrate heading the case flatly denied the report.
"What Libero says is not true," the chief prosecutor for the city of Florence, Giuseppe Quatrocchi, told reporters.
The Sicilian Mafia declared war on the state in the early 1990s with bomb attacks in Milan, Rome and on Florence's Uffizzi Gallery -- one of Italy's main cultural treasures -- in 1993.
Five people died in the Florence car-bombing, carried out by the Mafia as part of a campaign to scare the state into relaxing the harsh prison regime served by convicted mobsters.
Mafiosi were jailed for the bombings but a court probe into possible links with leading politicians and business figures was dropped in 1998 -- then reopened this year based on new evidence from a jailed mobster turned state witness, Gaspare Spatuzza.
Spatuzza has told magistrates, in evidence reported widely in the media and confirmed by court sources, that Berlusconi and Dell'Utri were named to him in connection with the attacks by one of the Mafia bosses now serving multiple life sentences.
But this mobster, Giuseppe Graviano, was quoted by Ansa news agency casting doubt on the evidence, saying: "What does Gaspare Spatuzza know? He was just a house painter."
SPIRAL OF DRAMA
The premier's spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti said late on Friday he could "rule out in the most decisive fashion" reports that Berlusconi would be notified formally he is under investigation. In Italy's legal system, such notification is meant to safeguard its recipient and does not mean charges will be brought.
Bonaiuti also noted that at the time of the attacks, media tycoon Berlusconi was still focused on his media empire, had not entered politics and his Forza Italia party "was not yet born".
Berlusconi has warned of a plot by magistrates to bring down his government with false charges, prompting President Giorgio Napolitano to call on Friday for the "spiral of rising drama" between the premier and the judiciary to end.
The same day as Spatuzza gives evidence on Friday from his maximum security jail in Turin to a Palermo court that is also investigating his new evidence, an court in Milan resumes a case against Berlusconi for allegedly bribing British lawyer David Mills $600,000 to withhold details of his business dealings.
In this case, totally unrelated to the Mafia investigations, Mills was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in jail, pending appeal, for taking a bribe which the prime minister denies having paid.
Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini says it is "legitimate for the prime minister to talk of judicial persecution". The 73-year-old premier says he has faced 109 trials and 200 million euros ($298.5 million) in legal fees in the last 15 years.
One of his first acts on winning a third term in 2008 was a a law giving him immunity from prosecution, but in October this was ruled unconstitutional and the cases against him resumed. That month his business empire was hit by a 750 million euro damages bill for bribing a judge in the 1990s.