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Europe

Berlusconi sentenced to prison in ‘Rubygate’ sex trial

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-06-25

A Milan court found former PM Silvio Berlusconi guilty on Monday of paying for sex with a minor and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Berlusconi, who is also barred for life from holding public office, will remain free pending an appeal.

A Milan court on Monday convicted former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi of paying for sex with an underage prostitute during infamous parties at his villa and then using his influence to try to cover it up.

Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison and barred from public office for life – a sentence that could mean the end of his two-decade-long political career.

However, there are two more levels of appeal before the sentence would become final, a process that could take months.

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.

Both he and the Moroccan woman at the center of the scandal have denied ever having sex.

'Beyond reality'

The 76-year-old media tycoon expressed outrage at the verdict, which he said was politically motivated.

"An incredible sentence has been issued, of a violence never seen or heard of before, to try to eliminate me from the political life of this country," Berlusconi said in a statement.

"Yet again I intend to resist this persecution because I am absolutely innocent and I don't want in any way to abandon my battle to make Italy a country that is truly free and just," he said.

Exotic dancer Karima El-Mahroug, AKA 'Ruby'

Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, immediately announced that they would file an appeal and said the sentence was as expected as it was unjust.

“This is beyond reality,” Ghedini told reporters outside the courthouse. 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,” Ghedini said.

The charges against the billionaire media mogul stem from “bunga bunga” 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 center of the case – Karima el-Mahroug, better known by her nickname Ruby – have testified in the trial. El-Mahroug was called by the defense but failed to show on a few occasions, delaying the trial. Berlusconi’s team eventually dropped her from the witness list.

El-Mahroug did testify in the separate trial of three Berlusconi aides charged with procuring prostitutes for the parties. She told the 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 US President Barack Obama.

Berlusconi was not in court on Monday. The three female judges deliberated for more than seven hours before delivering their verdict. Their written explanations for arriving at the judgment will be submitted in the next few weeks.

Envelopes of cash

Berlusconi has frequently railed against Milan’s prosecutors and judges, accusing them of pursuing politically motivated cases against him.

Interestingly, the judges announced in court that they would like to investigate certain witnesses for giving false testimony at the trial, according to FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Rome, Seema Gupta. “A lot of the names mentioned were some of the women who were referred to in this case, who are still being given gifts of money by Mister Berlusconi,” she said.

El-Mahroug, now 20, said in the other 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 ($3,900). She said she later received €30,000 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 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 el-Mahroug was indeed Mubarak’s niece – called police after she was detained in a bid to avoid a diplomatic incident.

El-Mahroug denied earlier claims that Berlusconi had ever given her €5 million ($6.43 million). She said she told acquaintances and even her father that she was going to receive such a large sum “as a boast”, but that it was a lie to make her seem more important.

The verdict garnered intense international media attention with several TV satellite trucks taking positions outside the courthouse.

Anti-Berlusconi demonstrators started cheering when news of the verdict leaked out of the courtroom, Gupta reported.

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

The tax-fraud case is heading to Italy’s highest court for a final appeal after Berlusconi’s defense failed to derail it last week at the constitutional court.

Berlusconi, who has faced trial numerous times relating to his business dealings, has been convicted in other cases. But those convictions have always either been overturned on appeal or the statute of limitations has run out before Italy’s high court could have its say.

The sex-for-hire case is the first involving his personal conduct.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)
 

Date created : 2013-06-24

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