Sat, Nov 23, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Berlusconi ‘paid off witnesses’ in sex trial, court reports

AFP, ROME

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, found guilty in June of paying for sex with an underage prostitute, falsified evidence and corrupted dozens of witnesses in a bid to escape jail, a court report said on Thursday.

Judges discovered “persistent delinquency... consisting of the systematic falsification of evidence... and the paying off of witnesses,” the court said in a sum-up of its decision to sentence the former Italian premier to seven years behind bars and ban him from public office.

The 77-year-old playboy orchestrated the “sexual exhibition of young ladies” which turned into “so-called bunga bunga sessions in which the female guests competed to do the accused’s bidding,” the court said.

The two-year trial had been rich with allegations of raunchy parties held in the billionaire’s mansion, complete with strippers dressed as nuns and erotic party games with topless girls.

Berlusconi was found guilty of paying for sex on several occasions with Moroccan-born Karima el-Mahroug, a then-17-year-old exotic dancer and glamor girl nicknamed “Ruby the Heartstealer.”

El-Mahroug had described the “bunga bunga” sessions of erotic dancing to interrogators in 2010, saying Berlusconi had picked up the custom from former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The trial “proved that the accused engaged in sexual acts with ‘Ruby’ in exchange for enormous amounts of money and other benefits, such as jewels,” the court said in the report, published by Italian media.

Under Italian law Berlusconi’s prison sentence is suspended until the appeals process is exhausted. The case is expected to go before an appeal court next year.

The three-time premier’s lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, said in a note that the report was “surreal ... totally against logic, the evidence and the founding principles of the law.”

Berlusconi’s long-time allies also slammed the judges’ findings.

“Falsehoods, mud and vulgarities. There are no other words to describe the report, published today, on the so-called Ruby trial,” said Renato Brunetta, head of the Forza Italia party in the lower house of parliament.

The media magnate was also found guilty of having abused his powers when he called a police station to pressure for el-Mahroug’s release from custody after she was arrested for theft.

His defense had claimed he believed el-Mahroug was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident, but the judges agreed with prosecutors that it was instead a bid to conceal their affair.

“Berlusconi had signaled an alleged kinship” between Ruby and Mubarak, which the ex-premier “was perfectly aware” was a lie, the court found.

The Milan judges said it was clear Berlusconi had paid off 32 witnesses who had all declared in court “not to have ever seen scenes of a sexual nature” at the famous soirees.

Ruby, in particular, “had been expecting to get a compensation equal to about 5 million euros [US$6.72 million]” for denying the sexual liaison after one of Berlusconi’s lawyers called her in for “a mysterious interrogation,” it said.

The buxom pole dancer, who had offered several differing versions of the truth to the court, was “entirely without credibility,” it added.

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