Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to seven years in jail and banned from public office for life on charges of paying a teenager for sex as well attempting to cover it up.
After 50 hearings spread over two years, the media mogul and three-time prime minister, 76, was found guilty of paying Karima el-Mahroug, a Moroccan- born dancer, for sex at his mansion outside Milan in 2010 when she was 17. Paying a person under 18 for sex in Italy is illegal.
Following el-Mahroug’s arrest that year on suspicion of theft, Berlusconi was also accused of pressuring police to release her into the care of an associate instead of allowing her to be placed under the supervision of the authorities.
During a series of phone calls to Milan police, Berlusconi allegedly suggested el-Mahroug was a niece of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
His calls were described by a prosecutor in court as a “military attack” on the police.
Under Italy’s three-tier legal system, Berlusconi will now be able to mount two appeals against the sentence, and will not serve any jail time or be banned from politics until a final verdict is handed down by Italy’s Supreme Court, which could take years.
Berlusconi’s supporters, who form part of Italy’s fragile coalition government, have hinted that they may walk out over in protest at his growing legal woes, prompting fresh elections which Berlusconi could win, granting him a chance to pass fresh legislation protecting him from prosecution.
In November, a final Supreme Court ruling is expected on a four-year sentence and five-year ban from politics he has received for tax evasion. He is also under investigation for bribing a senator to join his party. Paolo Bonaiuti, a spokesman for Berlusconi, called the sentence “the confirmation of an intention to eliminate Berlusconi from the political scene”.
El-Mahroug, also known as Ruby the Heartstealer, was an aspiring dancer in Milan when she was first invited to Berlusconi’s so-called “bunga bunga” parties, where some witnesses reported female guests dressed up as nuns and police officers. One guest, Maria Makdoum described girls “dancing while exposing their breasts or bottoms, coming up close to the prime minister, who touched their intimate parts”.
Nicole Minetti, a regional councillor for Berlusconi’s party, who helped organise the parties, was overheard on a police wiretap telling a friend: “You will see every type; there is the whore, the South American, the girl who has fled from home… total desperation.”
Girls received €2,000 to €3,000 for attending the parties, allegedly rising to €5,000 to €6,000 if they stayed the night.
The verdict is the latest episode in the long-running scandal over Berlusconi’s frequenting of young women, starting with his wife’s decision to leave him in 2009 over his friendship with Noemi Letizia, an 18-year-old aspiring model.
According to evidence given by el-Mahroug’s flatmate, el-Mahroug rang her from one of Berlusconi’s parties in 2010 and said: “Now I dance, then I strip and have sex.”
She later told magistrates that Berlusconi knew she was only 17 the second time she met him.
But in court she has since denied having sex with Berlusconi, also denying he knew she was a minor and claiming many of her statements to friends and prosecutors were lies.
“I told lies, for me lies were an automatic defence mechanism with everyone,” she said.
Berlusconi has admitted he gave el-Mahroug €57,000, but claimed it was to help her fulfil her dream of opening a beauty clinic in Milan, in order to prevent her from slipping into a life of prostitution.
A series of party guests and Berlusconi aides told the court the parties were elegant soirees, where he sang, told jokes, and where guests kept their clothes on.
After deliberating for seven hours, the three presiding judges recommended over 30 defence witnesses be probed for possible false