`Putin may have offered Berlusconi profits from joint projects`

US diplomats in Rome considered Italian PM a "mouthpiece" for Russian PM.

Rome: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may have offered Italy`s billionaire Premier Silvio Berlusconi a share of the profits from projects jointly developed by their respective country`s biggest energy companies, according to a diplomatic cable posted on the whistleblowing WikiLeaks website.

"The Georgian ambassador in Rome has told us" that his government "believes Putin has promised Berlusconi a percentage of profits from any pipelines developed by Gazprom in coordination with Eni", US Ambassador Ronald P Spogli said in a cable sent on January 26, 2009, according to the leaked document.

Rome-based Eni and Moscow-based Gazprom are together developing the 900 km South Stream pipeline, which will transport Russian gas to western Europe, whose cost Gazprom has estimated at EUR 15.5 billion.

The American ambassador also said "contacts" in Italy`s opposition centre-left Democratic Party and the Prime Minister`s own People of Freedom Party "believe that Berlusconi and his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely from many of the energy deals between Italy and Russia", according to the cable.

The document was posted late Wednesday on the WikiLeaks website.

American cables previously posted to the site showed that high-level US diplomats in Rome considered Berlusconi "feckless", "vain", "ineffective", and a "mouthpiece" for Putin.

Attending a summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the Kazakh capital Astana this week, Berlusconi denied he was personally profiting from energy deals with Russia.

"The US knows I have absolutely no interest in any other country, that there aren`t personal interests," he told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the OCSE meeting on Wednesday tried to make up for the embarrassing cables by praising Berlusconi in front of a bank of television cameras.

"We have no better friend, we have no one who supports American policies as consistently as Prime Minister Berlusconi has," Hillary said with Berlusconi at her side.


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