MILAN – Milan prosecutors on Monday demanded a prison sentence of six years and a lifetime ban from public office for former Premier Silvio Berlusconi in his sex-for-hire trial.
The request came days after an appeals court upheld a four-year sentence and five-year ban on public office in a tax fraud case against Berlusconi. The two cases, coming to a head at a delicate moment for Italy, raise questions about his political future.
Berlusconi, who has dominated Italy’s political scene for two decades, headed the centre-right coalition that finished second in February elections and which is in an uneasy coalition with the centre-left. He has no Cabinet post, but he serves in Parliament.
In the prostitution case, Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underage Moroccan teen at lavish parties he hosted as premier, then trying to cover it up.
Berlusconi said in a statement that the prosecutor’s summing up was full of “theories, conjecture, far-fetched notions and falsehoods inspired by prejudice and hatred.”
Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini told the court during closing arguments Monday that the young woman, Karima el-Mahroug, known by the nickname “Ruby the Heart Stealer,” lied when she denied having had sex with Berlusconi. Boccassini said “there is no doubt that Ruby had sex with the defendant and that she received benefits in exchange.”
She put the monetary sum at 4.5 million euros ($5.8 million) from the then-premier, citing a written note and some phone calls where money exchanges were discussed.
Boccassini told the court the young women invited to the politician’s parties “were part of a system of prostitution organized for the pleasure of Silvio Berlusconi.” She said there was “no doubt” that it was known to the organizers of the parties that el-Mahroug was underage when they included her on the guest list.
Under Italian law, it is illegal to pay for sex with a minor under 18 years of age. Boccassini pointed out that it was Berlusconi’s own government that had raised the age from 17 — el-Mahroug’s age at the time of their alleged encounters. Both Berlusconi and el-Mahroug have denied any sexual contact.
Boccassini described el-Mahroug as a troubled adolescent who had run away from her parents and foster homes, and had been formally accused of petty theft of wallets and expensive jewelry on several occasions.
While working occasionally as a hostess in nightclubs, el-Mahroug wore designer clothes and at times carried as much as 1,000 euros ($1,300) in cash, the prosecutor said.
“We have no doubt that Ruby prostituted herself” before coming in contact with anyone in Berlusconi’s circle in February 2010, Boccassini said.
Berlusconi has vigorously denied the sex-for-hire charges, and said he intervened on el-Mahroug’s behalf when she was picked up for allegedly stealing 3,000 euros from an acquaintance because he believed at the time she was the daughter of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid an international incident.
Boccassini said he knew that was not the case, and that he had “abused his position” to help the minor avoid legal problems and himself avoid discussion of “sex for payment.” It this is abuse of power charge, on top of the underage sex with a prostitute one, that carries the potential lifetime political ban.
The prostitution trial had been delayed by more than two months for Italy’s national election, an eye ailment for which Berlusconi was hospitalized, and a change of venue request that was denied. His defence has the next word in the trial, and a verdict is expected in the coming weeks.
Just two days before the prosecutor’s long-delayed closing arguments on Monday in the sensational sex-for-hire case, Berlusconi led a public rally against magistrates, whom he called “blinded by prejudice and hatred toward him.” His private TV network on Sunday evening also aired a piece about the trial discrediting the prosecutors’ case.
If the tax fraud verdict and sentence are confirmed, they include a five-year ban on public office. A final appeal is expected and could be ruled on before the end of the year.
In Italy, defendants are legally considered innocent until all appeals are exhausted, and Berlusconi’s lawyers are expected to appeal the tax fraud case to the nation’s highest Court of Cassation once the reasoning for the decision is published.
© 2013 The Canadian Press