Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi claims he is “absolutely innocent” after being found guilty of paying for sex with an underage prostitute.
Friends and foes of the defendant attack each other in front of the Milan Palace of Justice, with one group using words like “crook” and “rascal,” while the other group berates the first group as a “pack of communists.” There seems to be a camera trained on each of the protesters, to ensure that it can all be broadcast live. There is an enormous media presence, even though there is in fact little to see, and the key players in the spectacle are not even inside the building.
The 76-year-old was sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from holding public office by a panel of three judges in Milan.
He previously denied having sex with Karima El Mahroug, also known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, after what prosecutors claimed were erotic “bunga bunga” parties at his lavish villa in 2010.
“I was truly convinced I would be absolved because there was absolutely no possibility of being found guilty based on the evidence,” he said.
“I intend to resist the persecution because I am absolutely innocent and I don’t want to abandon my fight to make Italy a truly free and just country.”
During his trial, the court heard dozens of young women, including Miss El Mahroug, who was 17 at the time, were paid with cash and cars to attend Berlusconi‘s parties and dance semi-naked for him.
Former PM Berlusconi was also found guilty of abuse of office by arranging to have Miss Karima El Mahroug, now 19, released from police custody when she was arrested on suspicion of theft.
His defence claimed he believed the dancer was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident.
His lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, confirmed an appeal would be lodged, describing the sentence as “beyond reality” and “completely illogical”.
“The judges even went beyond the prosecutors’ request (for a six-year sentence),” he added.
Berlusconi has always insisted he is being persecuted by judges as part of a political plot.
Even before judge Giulia Turri and her two female assistants returned their guilty verdicts, he told friends his guilt was a “done deal”, insisting he had no chance of a fair trial because of the political bias.
Berlusconi, who was not in court for the verdict, has two levels of appeal and cannot be jailed until that process has been exhausted. Under the Italian justice system, that could take several years.
However, the verdict is likely to put further pressure on current Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, whose fragile coalition government is supported by Berlusconi’s People Of Freedom party.
Professor Christopher Duggan, an expert on Italian history and politics at the University of Reading, said the outlook for Mr Letta’s government “must now be bleak”.
He said: “Berlusconi has claimed credit both for Giorgio Napolitano being re-elected as President and for burying the hatchet with the left, giving Italy a workable coalition.
“Undoubtedly, though, he and his millions of followers have been hoping there will be something of a quid pro quo for this: namely that the political persecution, as they see it, of Berlusconi by the judiciary will stop.
“This sentence will leave them dismayed and extremely angry.”
Last October, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud connected to his television channels.
The case is now heading to Italy’s highest court for a final appeal, after his defence team failed to have the verdict overturned at the constitutional court.
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