WikiLeaks: Putin, Berlusconi deny mafia links

Following the publication of another batch of leaked US diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Italian colleague and friend Silvio Berlusconi denied allegations of mafia-type connections.

Russia denounced leaked cables in which a Spanish prosecutor described the country as a "virtual mafia state" and oil experts suggested Prime Minister Putin had amassed illegal wealth.

In particular, a Switzerland-based firm trading in energy, Gunvor, is said to be under the personal control of Putin. Gunvor representatives denied the claim.

A coded message dated 8 February 2010 cites Spanish prosecutor José Gonzalez as telling US officials that he "cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and organised crime groups". The telegrams are signed by US Ambassdor to Moscow John Beyerle.

"The country that has such diplomats merits only pity," Dmitry Peskov, Putin's press secretary, was quoted as saying by the Russian press.

Peskov's strong-worded statement appears to indicate that Moscow could ask Beyerle to leave as a 'persona non grata'. Beyerle, a career diplomat, had until now enjoyed excellent relations in Moscow. His father, Joseph Beyrle, is a World War II veteran who is the only soldier to have fought in both the US and Soviet armies, and is considered a hero by the Russians.

According to another cable, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is said to have personally profited from energy deals between Italy and Russia.

The communications were written by former US ambassador Ronald Spogli and his successor in Rome, David Thorne.

Berlusconi, who was travelling to the Black Sea resort of Sochi yesterday (2 December) to meet Putin and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, denied the allegations.

The US "is quite clear that I have absolutely no interest in any other country; that there are absolutely no personal interests, and that I only look after the interests of the Italians and my country," Berlusconi was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA.

Spogli also said the Georgian ambassador in Rome had informed him that "Putin has promised Berlusconi a percentage of profits from any pipelines developed by Gazprom in co-ordination with [Italian energy giant] ENI".

The pipeline in question is South Stream, a Gazprom-ENI project that is seen as a rival to the EU-favoured Nabucco pipeline. Nabucco was initially promoted by the US administration in the early 1990s.

Positions

Background

WikiLeaks, a whistle-blowing website which recently gained popularity for having published secret documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, released another batch of classified papers on 28 November.

The documents posted are said to be the first of more than 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks has given priority access to the documents to France's Le Monde, Spain's El Pais, The New York Times and Britain's The Guardian newspapers, as well as German magazine Der Spiegel.

According to WikiLeaks, the cables, which date from 1966 until the end of February 2010, contain confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the US State Department. 15,652 of the cables are classified as 'secret'.

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