Gordon Brown took a trip to Rome yesterday, to discuss the economic crisis with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. After the meeting, Berlusconi announced that 'nationalization was an option' for the banks, even though he has so far insisted that Italian banks were perfectly solvent, and indeed that there wasn't an economic crisis in Italy anyway. This may be true, since Italian economic growth has hovered around 1% ever since Silvio stepped into the political arena with spectacular effect 15 years ago. In such circumstances, who notices a recession?
Anyway, the most interesting thing about the meeting was its timing. On Tuesday an Italian court found British lawyer David Mills guilty of accepting a bribe worth £300,000 from... Silvio Berlusconi. Mills had worked for Berlusconi setting up a network of offshore bank accounts that Berlusconi's Fininvest company used for various activities it preferred to keep hidden. In a previous investigation into Berlusconi's affairs Mills had 'turned some tricky corners' (his words) in giving evidence on Fininvest's offshore accounts, and Silvio had rewarded him with the aforementioned gift. Mills' conviction for accepting the bribe logically implies Berlusconi's conviction for bribery, but that won't happen because the Italian parliament recently passed a law granting immunity from prosecution to the highest political office holders, including the Prime Minister.
In other words, Brown shakes hands with a man who has just been found guilty, to all intents and purposes, of bribery.
By the way, Mills is married to Tessa Jowell, Olympics minister. Jowell is now separated from Mills, a separation which came about shortly after the Berlusconi bribe became public knowledge. Jowell knew about the gift, but apparently didn't know that it came from Berlusconi, or indeed why.
Good to know that in such difficult times we are governed by the best and brightest.