Now that consigliere, Marcello Dell’Utri, a former senator, has been caught up in one of the biggest book-theft scandals in history.
In a rare interview here, Mr. Dell’Utri said that he had returned all but one of the books once he learned they were stolen. He also distanced himself from the central figure in the case, Marino Massimo De Caro, the former director of the library, now on trial in Naples on charges of masterminding the large-scale theft of volumes. Yet Mr. Dell’Utri acknowledged that he had received books from Mr. De Caro for years and had helped make his career. When the arrests came, “for me it was a great surprise,” Mr. Dell’Utri said as he sat in a Prussian blue suit recently in the Via Senato Library, a private foundation he runs in Milan. “I repeat, until that point, I had told him, ‘My compliments, because you’re doing meritorious work for culture and for the country.’ ”
But the appointment of Mr. De Caro, a bibliophile with no college degree, to lead one of the country’s most important libraries would probably not have been possible without Mr. Dell’Utri’s support, and the relationship of the two men shows how closely politics and culture are intertwined in Italy. “There are people like De Caro who steal,” said Fabrizio Govi, president of the Italian Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. “There always have been in the world, there always will be. The question is how he got there.” Mr. Govi added, “How is it possible that a person of that kind manages to get into the graces of a ministry, to get a public position without a college degree?” Mr. De Caro was sentenced to seven years’ house arrest for embezzlement at a different trial in March. He now stands trial with a dozen others on charges of criminal conspiracy.
He was arrested in the spring of 2012, a year into his tenure as director of the Girolamini, after thousands of books were found in a storage unit in Verona traced to his associates, and still others were tracked to book dealers in Italy and elsewhere. During the first trial, Mr. De Caro said he had intended to sell the volumes to raise money to maintain the library, a state institution run by a religious order. Mr. Dell’Utri is under investigation in the Girolamini case, as well as in a separate case involving kickbacks in energy contracts in which Mr. De Caro also figures. But Mr. Dell’Utri has not been charged with a crime in those probes. Mr. Dell’Utri’s spent decades in Milan in a career that has included directing the advertising company in Mr. Berlusconi’s media empire and founding the Forza Italia party in 1994 with Mr. Berlusconi and others. After more than 15 years as a lawmaker, Mr. Dell’Utri lost his senate seat this spring after an appeals court found him guilty of Mafia association.