An Italian appeals court on Friday acquitted former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of paying for sex with a minor and abuse of power charges in a surprise ruling that overturned a guilty verdict handed down by a lower court last year.
The lower tribunal had sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison.
Presiding Judge Enrico Tranfa said there was "no crime" committed on the abuse of power allegations and that Berlusconi's actions "did not constitute a crime" on the prostitution charges.
"The defendant is acquitted," Tranfa said, requesting silence after gasps we heard in the Milan court. He said he would publish a detailed explanation of the ruling within the three-month legal limit.
Berlusconi's lawyer Franco Coppi said that the ruling had "exceeded our highest expectations", adding that the judge may have recognised the defence’s argument that Berlusconi had not known that the girl in question was only 17 years old.
Prosecutors had asked the judges to uphold the seven-year sentence for having sex in exchange for money with an underage exotic dancer called Karima El-Mahroug, who is now better known by her stage name as "Ruby the Heart Stealer".
Berlusconi had also been convicted of pressuring the police while he was still prime minister to release Mahroug from custody when she was arrested on an unrelated charge of theft, apparently out of concern that she could reveal their liaison to authorities.
Prosecutors, who had relied on telephone wiretaps and statements made and then denied by Mahroug, can now apply to Italy’s supreme court to review the ruling.
Legal troubles not over
Berlusconi, 77, was not present at the hearing as he was performing court-ordered community service at a centre for Alzheimer's patients. Berlusconi was sentenced to community service after being convicted for tax fraud linked to his Mediaset business empire.
Berlusconi is also currently on trial for allegedly bribing a senator with €3 million euros ($4 million) in 2006 to join his party and destabilise a centre-left government.
In another case, prosecutors have requested that he face trial on suspicion of paying off a pimp to provide false testimony in an investigation into the prostitutes who allegedly attended parties at his residences in Milan and Rome.
Berlusconi is also being investigated for allegedly paying off witnesses in the Mahroug trial – the young women who attended his soirees – to provide false testimony.
The charges in that case have not yet been formally levied.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-07-18