Italy's Silvio Berlusconi sentenced to prison after paying 17-year-old for sex
A Milan court yesterday convicted former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute during infamous "bunga bunga" parties at his villa and then using his influence to try to cover it up.
Berlusconi, 76, 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 political career. However, there are two more levels of appeal before the sentence would become final, a process that can 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 centre of the scandal have denied ever having sex.
His lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, immediately announced an appeal. "This is beyond reality," he said 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 here," Ghedini said.
The charges against the billionaire media mogul stem from the parties in 2010 at his mansion near Milan, where he wined and dined beautiful young women while he was prime minister. 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 centre of the case - Karima el-Mahroug, better known by her nickname Ruby - had testified in the trial. Mahroug was called by the defence but failed to appear on a couple of occasions, delaying the trial. Berlusconi's team eventually dropped her from the witness list.
Mahroug did testify in the separate trial of three Berlusconi aides charged with procuring prostitutes for the parties. She said then that Berlusconi's disco featured aspiring showgirls dressed as sexy nuns and nurses performing striptease acts, and one woman even dressed up as US President Barack Obama.
Berlusconi was not in court yesterday. The three female judges deliberated for more than seven hours before delivering their verdict. Their written explanations for the verdict will be submitted in the next few weeks.
Berlusconi frequently has railed against Milan prosecutors and judges, accusing them of mounting politically motivated cases against him.
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 (HK$30,000). She said she later received €30,000 in cash from Berlusconi paid through an intermediary - money that she told him she wanted to use to open a beauty salon, despite having no formal training.
She was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters but passed herself off as being 24.