Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted by a Milan court on Wednesday of bribing witnesses in a previous underage prostitution trial. The 86-year-old billionaire was found not guilty of bribing 24 people to commit perjury during a 2013 trial that accused him of paying for sex with underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug, a 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer known to her. stage name Ruby the Heartstealer.

Politics of Italy
Forza Italia party leader Silvio Berlusconi smiles before voting in the Italian Senate in Rome, October 26, 2022.

Andrew Medicini/AP

A judge in Milan ruled that Berlusconi and 27 co-defendants were not guilty “because the act was not committed.”

The three-time prime minister is a media mogul and head of Italy’s Forza Italia party, a key member of the current prime minister Georgia Meloni’s ruling right-wing coalition.

El Mahroug was among the co-defendants acquitted this week, along with 20 other women who attended Berlusconi’s so-called “bunga bunga” parties.

Berlusconi was acquitted Italy’s Supreme Court in 2015 on initial charges of child prostitution and abuse of office. During the trial, the court ruled that although Berlusconi did pay for sex with El Mahroug, he did not know that she was only 17 at the time.

However, after both Berlusconi and the defendants described the bunga bunga parties as elegant evenings, prosecutors suspected that Berlusconi had bribed the young women to lie about the nature of the gatherings. El Mahroug was recorded talking about having sex with Berlusconi and describing orgies that took place at parties, although she later claimed she made it all up.

Berlusconi's life
In this May 17, 2013 photo, Karima El Mahroug is escorted outside a Milan court by carabinieri police officers after testifying at the trial of three former Berlusconi aides accused of pimping her and another woman into prostitution in Milan.

Luca Bruno / AP

Prosecutors alleged that Berlusconi was a “sultan” who “enlivened his evenings with a group of concubines, in the sense of sex slaves, who entertained him for a fee.”

They accused him of paying El Mahroug and other young women with money, houses and cars for their “silence and lies” during the underage prostitution trial.

Berlusconi’s lawyers said the former head of state was being tried “for magnanimity” and the women were simply offered compensation for the damage done to their own reputations.

The subsequent bribery case was split into three separate trials: in Rome, Milan and Siena, as the accused were based in those areas. Berlusconi has already been acquitted of bribery in Siena in 2021 and in Rome in 2022. Wednesday’s ruling acquitted him in all three jurisdictions.

“I can’t help being extremely pleased, three out of three!” This was stated by Berlusconi’s lawyer Federico Cecconi on Wednesday. He said the decision by the Milan court “could finally put an end to this long procedure in which three different courts reached the same conclusion.”

Shaking hands with the prosecutor, El Mahroug said that “a heavy burden has been lifted from me.”

Berlusconi has long claimed he was the victim of a politically motivated prosecution. Since entering politics in 1994, he has faced 35 criminal cases, among other charges of corruption, tax evasion, false accounting and embezzlement.

Only one resulted in a final conviction, for tax fraud in 2013. At the time, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison, but was pardoned for three of them. A year of public works has passed.

Under Italian law, prosecutors can appeal the verdict, and the sentence is not final until the case has passed through the appeals court and the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court.

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