Berlusconi convicted in sex-for-hire trial

Sentenced to seven years in prison and barred from public office for life, Italy ex-PM says he is "utterly innocent".

    A Milan court has handed down a seven-year jail sentence for former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was accused of having sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his powers to cover it up.

    Monday's verdict brings the curtains down on a two-year court drama which focused attention on billionaire Berlusconi's alleged "bunga bunga" sex parties in his private villa outside Milan while he held the position of prime minister.

    Berlusconi was also 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 position in the current Italian government, but remains influential in an uneasy cross-party coalition that emerged after inconclusive February elections.

    'Incredible reaction'

    Reacting to the ruling, Berlusconi described it as "an incredible sentence, of a violence never seen or heard before, handed down to try and eliminate me from political life", while his lawyers said they would appeal.

    "I was truly convinced I would be absolved because there was absolutely no possibility of being found guilty based on the evidence," he said in a note, adding: "I am utterly innocent."

    The sentence was "completely illogical", Niccolo Ghedini, Berlusconi's lawyer, said.

    The result could have political outcomes as well: It is likely to weaken Prime Minister Enrico Letta's left-right coalition government, which depends on Berlusconi's support for its survival.

    The charges against Berlusconi included paying for sex with Karima El-Mahroug, a former nightclub dancer also known as Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was under 18, and abuse of office to get her released from police custody on a separate occasion.

    'Burlesque' shows

    Berlusconi had denied all wrongdoing and insisted he was targeted by leftist prosecutors.

    He maintained that the alleged sex parties in a basement room of his home were elegant dinners where the female guests performed "burlesque" shows.

    Both Berlusconi and El-Mahroug deny having sex together, although prosecutor Ilda Boccassini insisted that Berlusconi "had sex with her and knew she was a minor".

    El-Mahroug was "part of a prostitution system set up for the personal sexual satisfaction of the defendant", she said.

    In May 2010 Berlusconi, then Italy's prime minister, called a Milan police station to instruct officials to release El Mahroug, who was being held on suspicion of stealing a bracelet.

    A Brazilian prostitute who lived with El-Mahroug had called Berlusconi on his mobile phone to tell him she had been arrested.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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