Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister and head of the main coalition partner in the current government, has been found guilty of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office to cover it up.
In a highly anticipated verdict at the end of a sensational trial that proved the nail in the coffin of the playboy politician’s international reputation, a panel of three female judges sentenced the 76-year-old billionaire to seven years in jail and slapped him with a lifetime ban on holding public office.
However, Berlusconi, the owner of one of the biggest football clubs in Europe, AC Milan has always denied the charges and is certain to appeal against the verdict. In Italy such sentences are only enforced once they are made definitive – a process that can take years.
Meanwhile he will remain a senator in the Italian parliament and head of the centre-right Freedom People (PdL) party.
Although occupying no official post in the government, he plays a highly influential role in national politics and has the power to bring it down by withdrawing his support.
Berlusconi was not in the Milan court to hear the verdict, read out by the head of the panel of judges, Giulia Turri. He was reported to be with his girlfriend and close associates in his villa in Arcore, near Milan, where the infamous “bunga bunga” nights took place.
Neither was Karima el-Mahroug, the 20-year-old Moroccan woman known by her stage name Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby Heartstealer) who is at the heart of the case. Berlusconi was convicted of paying her for sex in 2010 when she was 17 – under the legal age of prostitution in Italy. Both deny having “intimate relations” with each other.
But the more serious charge was that of abuse of office.
Judges found Berlusconi had pressurised Milan police officers into releasing Mahroug when, in May 2010 – just over three months since they first met at Arcore – she was arrested on suspicion of theft. Berlusconi admitted having called the police from Paris, but insisted it was because she had told him she was a relative of Hosni Mubarak, the then Egyptian president, and he feared a “diplomatic incident” as a result of her detention.
Prosecutors, though, argued that he was worried about details of their liaisons coming out. After several hours of questioning, Mahroug was eventually released from custody into the arms of Nicole Minetti, Berlusconi’s former dental hygienist who had recently become a regional councillor for the PdL.
She is accused, with two others, in a separate but related trial, of procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi. She denies the charges.
Prosecutors in the so-called Ruby-gate trial had argued that Mahroug was just one woman involved in “a prostitution system set up for the personal sexual satisfaction of the defendant”.
In accordance with Italian convention, the judges in the Milan court will not release their reasoning for the conviction for a period of up to three months.