Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Berlusconi 'should get six years'

Silvio Berlusconi's sex for sale trial is in its final stages (AP)
Silvio Berlusconi's sex for sale trial is in its final stages (AP)

Prosecutors have demanded six years in jail and a lifetime ban from public office for former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi in his sex-for-hire trial.

Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underage Moroccan girl at a party he hosted while he was premier, and then trying to cover it up.

Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini told the court during closing arguments that the woman, Karima el-Mahroug, known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, lied when she denied having had sex with Berlusconi. She said "there is no doubt that Ruby had sex with the defendant and that she received benefits in exchange." She said Ms el-Mahroug had received more than 4.5 million euros (£3.8 million) from the then-premier.

The sex case reopened just days after Berlusconi's four-year sentence for tax fraud was confirmed by an appeals court, a damaging verdict that nonetheless cannot be enforced until all appeals are exhausted.

The prostitution trial had been delayed by more than two months for elections, an eye ailment for which Berlusconi was hospitalized and a change of venue request that was denied.A verdict could come by the end of the month.

Under Italian law, it is illegal pay for sex with a minor under 18 years of age. Ms Boccassini pointed out that it was Berlusconi's own government that had raised the age from 17 - Ms el-Mahroug's age at the time of their alleged encounters.

Ms Boccassini described Ms el-Mahroug as a troubled adolescent who had run away from her parents and foster homes and had been formally accused of petty theft of wallets and expensive jewellery on several occasions. Despite not having a job she wore designer clothes and at times had as much as 1,000 euros cash.

"We have no doubt that Ruby prostituted herself" before coming in contact with anyone in Berlusconi's circle in February 2010, Ms Boccassini said.

The two trials have raised questions about Berlusconi's political future at a delicate moment for Italy. He headed the centre right coalition that finished second in February elections and which is in an uneasy coalition with the centre-left, but he has no formal government post. If the tax fraud verdict and sentence is confirmed, it includes a five-year ban on public office. A final level of appeal is pending, and could be delivered before the end of the year.

In Italy, defendants are legally considered innocent until all appeals are exhausted, and Berlusconi's lawyers are expected to appeal the tax fraud case to the nation's highest Court of Cassation once the reasoning for the decision is published.

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