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Silvio Berlusconi sentenced to seven years for paying underage prostitute for sex

By Michael Day in Milan

Three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to seven years in jail and banned from public office for life after a Milan court found him guilty of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office to conceal the act.

The conviction of the leader of Italy's centre-right was not unexpected, and two appeals must be heard before the ruling is activated. But the nation was last night waiting to see how the tycoon would react, and whether the sentence would have repercussions for Italy's fragile left/right government of national unity.

Judges decided that Mr Berlusconi (76) broke the law by paying Moroccan-born erotic dancer Karima El-Mahroug — known as Ruby the Heart Stealer — for sex in 2010 when she was under 18. Frequenting prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, but having sex with someone below the age of consent carries a custodial sentence.

The billionaire was also found guilty of abusing his powers in trying to conceal the act. The court heard a recording of Mr Berlusconi calling police on May 27, 2010 and telling them Ms El-Mahroug was the granddaughter of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in order to have her released from custody, where she was held on suspicion of theft.

Mr Berlusconi was not in court to hear the verdict.

Both Mr Berlusconi and Ms El-Mahroug denied having had sex, and the prosecution was unable to provide a witness to any sexual encounter. But the three female judges, Carmen D'Elia, Orsola De Cristofaro and Giulia Turri, were in no doubt about his guilt.

They not only convicted him on the sex charge but dealt him a heavier sentence than that called for by the prosecution. The judges upped the request from six to seven years, and agreed to the prosecutors' demand that Mr Berlusconi be banned from holding public office for life. He has repeatedly claimed Milan's judges are part of a leftist plot to oust him from politics.

He is entitled to two appeals and, because of his age, he almost certainly would not go to prison if definitively convicted. After the verdict was reached Mr Berlusconi made no immediate comment. But the ruling is a humiliation.

Renato Schifani, of Berlusconi's PDL party, said the verdict represented “an injustice and pathological persecution” against the ex-premier. Mr Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini added the outcome “was removed from reality, but not unexpected”.

Background

Yesterday’s verdict comes on the heels of Silvio Berlusconi's tax-fraud conviction, which along with a four-year prison sentence and five-year ban on public office, have been upheld on a first appeal.

Berlusconi, who has been tried numerous times relating to his business dealings, has been convicted in other cases at the trial level. But those convictions have always either been overturned on appeal or the statute of limitations ran out before Italy's high court could have its say. The sex-for-hire case is the first involving his personal conduct.

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