Berlusconi case details 'leaked by Italy's Hong Kong envoy'
Former senator claims top diplomat disclosed investigators' plea for help with fraud probe in city surrounding disgraced ex-prime minister
Patrick Boehler and Antonio Talia in Milan
Italian prosecutors are investigating claims that its former envoy to Hong Kong leaked a detailed account of a money laundering probe in the city linked to former premier Silvio Berlusconi.
The envoy, Alessandro De Pedys, allegedly handed a letter to former senator Sergio De Gregorio in September 2007 while De Gregorio was on an official visit to Hong Kong.
It contained a summary of what Italian investigators had told Hong Kong authorities they knew about the crime, the current line of inquiry and information they wanted from the city.
De Gregorio, who is himself embroiled in a corruption scandal, said he used the information from De Pedys to ingratiate himself with Berlusconi, who was then leader of the opposition but would be re-elected prime minister in early 2008.
He contacted the Chinese ambassador to Italy, Dong Jinyi, and two Hong Kong representatives to the European Union, Duncan Pescod and Mary Chow Shuk-ching, asking them not to help with the investigation. Both representatives have confirmed that they met De Gregorio, but deny they attempted to interfere with the judicial process.
Details of the allegations emerged after De Gregorio claimed he tried to broker a deal to stop the Hong Kong authorities handing over evidence in the fraud and money laundering case linked to Berlusconi, who was later convicted of tax fraud.
It involved a request from the Hong Kong side for help with arranging a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI for Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the city's chief executive at the time.
The foreign ministry in Rome transferred documents belonging to De Pedys to investigators on Tuesday.
A source within the Italian government confirmed to the Post that the documents were related to De Pedys' work in Hong Kong. De Pedys yesterday denied allegations of wrongdoing in e-mailed replies to questions by the Post. "I have no memory of giving Mr De Gregorio any document relating to the request for judicial assistance," he wrote.
De Pedys, now head of deputy foreign minister Marta Dassu's office, added: "At the time, news of the request for judicial assistance had already been published in several newspapers, including yours. There was no confidential information to be given to De Gregorio."
The Post first reported the request for judicial assistance in June 2007.
De Gregorio told prosecutors in Milan earlier this month that De Pedys "called me into his room, closed the door and started to talk about a judicial request that was sent to Hong Kong".
De Gregorio said the request was linked to an investigation into alleged money laundering and fraud by Berlusconi and several associates, including two Hong Kong women.
"He gave me a detailed account of the facts and showed me a report on a piece of paper with the letterhead 'Consulate General of Italy Hong Kong'," De Gregorio told the prosecutors.
"I asked him if he could make a copy of the document for me."