Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Berlusconi found guilty in sex case

Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison and barred from public office for life

Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been convicted of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute during "bunga bunga" parties at his villa and then using his influence to try to cover it up.

Berlusconi, 76, was sentenced to seven years in prison and barred from public office for life. The ban on holding office could mean the end of Berlusconi's two-decade political career. However, there are two more levels of appeal before the sentence would become final.

Berlusconi holds no official post in the current Italian government, but remains influential in the uneasy cross-party coalition that emerged after inconclusive February elections.

Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, immediately announced an appeal and said the sentence was as expected as it was unjust. "This is beyond reality," he said outside court. The sentence was even stiffer than the six-year prison term and lifetime ban on public office that prosecutors had originally requested. "I'm calm because I've been saying for three years that this trial should never have taken place here," he said.

The charges against the billionaire media mogul stem from the parties in 2010 at his mansion near Milan, where he wined and dined beautiful young women while he was premier. He says the dinner parties were elegant soirees; prosecutors say they were sex-fuelled parties that women were paid to attend.

Neither Berlusconi nor the woman at the centre of the case, Karima el-Mahroug, better known by her nickname Ruby the Heart Stealer, have given evidence in the trial. Ms El-Mahroug was called by the defence but failed to show on a couple of occasions, delaying the trial. Berlusconi's team eventually dropped her from the witness list.

She did give evidence in the separate trial of three Berlusconi aides charged with procuring prostitutes for the parties. She told that court that Berlusconi's disco featured aspiring showgirls dressed as sexy nuns and nurses performing striptease acts, and that one woman even dressed up as president Barack Obama.

Berlusconi was not in court for the verdict. The three female judges deliberated for more than seven hours. Their written explanations will be published in the next few weeks. Berlusconi frequently has railed against Milan prosecutors and judges, accusing them of mounting politically motivated cases against him.

Ms El-Mahroug, now 20, said in the earlier trial that she attended about a half-dozen parties at Berlusconi's villa, and that after each, Berlusconi handed her an envelope with up to 3,000 euros (£2,560). She said she later received 30,000 euros cash from the then-premier paid through an intermediary - money that she told Berlusconi she wanted to use to open a beauty salon, despite having no formal training.

She was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters but passed herself off as being 24. She also claimed she was related to then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Berlusconi's lawyers argued that he - thinking she was Mubarak's niece - called police after she was detained in a bid to avoid a diplomatic incident.

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