Italy court sentences former PM Berlusconi to seven years in jail on sex charges
MILAN - Agence France-Presse
An Italian court on June 24, 2013 sentenced Silvio Berlusconi to seven years in jail and also banned the former prime minister from holding public office for life, in a trial where he was accused of paying for sex with an underage escort girl and abuse of office. AFP photoAn Italian court on June 24 sentenced Silvio Berlusconi to seven years in jail and banned the former premier from public office after convicting him of paying for sex with an underage escort girl and abusing his power to hide the liaison.
Berlusconi's lawyers immediately said they would appeal the verdict. The sentence went beyond the request of prosecutors, who had called for the 76-year-old billionaire to serve six years, and could spark serious tensions within Italy's uneasy grand coalition government.
The sentence is "completely illogical," said Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini, amid a clamour from Berlusconi allies accusing the Milan judges of persecuting the three-time former prime minister.
The verdict brings to a climax a two-year trial which kicked off a media frenzy - amid allegations of strippers dressed as nuns and erotic party games with topless girls - and sparked cheers and applause from anti-Berlusconi protesters outside the court, who sang the national anthem.
The media magnate's cronies, many of whom took to Twitter in disgust, described the verdict as "utterly shameful", "a political verdict, a coup d'etat," and "a pitiful attempt to oust Berlusconi." Berlusconi's spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti said it confirmed "the bid to eliminate Berlusconi from the political scene... but the attempt, which has gone beyond the limits of credibility, will fail." Interior Minister Angelo Alfano, the secretary of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party, said the verdict was "worse than the worst case scenario" and urged him to "soldier on" - a possible reference to his support for the government.
Over the age limit
The sentence will be suspended until all appeals have been exhausted, a process likely to take years. Berlusconi's age also means he is unlikely to ever see the inside of a prison cell because of lenient sentencing guidelines in Italy for people over the age of 70.
The trial relates to crimes committed in 2010 when Berlusconi was prime minister, and revolves around what prosecutors have described as erotic parties held at his luxury residence outside Milan.
Berlusconi was accused of paying for sex on several occasions with Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, a then 17-year-old exotic dancer and busty glamour girl nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer".
He was also accused of having called a police station to pressure for El-Mahroug's release from custody when she was arrested for theft.
His defence claimed he believed El-Mahroug was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident, but prosecutors insisted it was a bid to conceal their liaison.
While abuse of office was the more serious of the charges, it was the sex with the pole dancer after racy "bunga bunga" evenings in a basement room of his mansion that mesmerised the public.
El-Mahroug described the "bunga bunga" sessions of erotic dancing to interrogators in 2010, saying Berlusconi had picked up the custom from former Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi. Both the flamboyant billionaire and El-Mahroug denied having had sex.
Berlusconi has been involved in a series of legal battles ever since entering politics in the 1990s but multiple cases against him have either been thrown out, expired under a statute of limitations, or had initial convictions overturned on appeal.
A Milan court last month upheld his conviction for tax fraud, confirming the punishment of a year in prison and a five-year ban from public office which is frozen pending a second appeal.