Berlusconi underage sex conviction is overturned
Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted yesterday of paying for sex with an underage prostitute at his "bunga bunga" parties, in the most lurid and sensational of the many trials he has faced since entering politics 20 years ago.
An appeal court in Milan threw out the conviction delivered last year by a lower court, in which the former Italian prime minister was sentenced to seven years in jail and banned for life from holding political office.
Many legal experts, and most of the Italian media, had expected that the court would uphold the conviction, although perhaps with a lesser jail sentence. Instead the panel of three judges rejected the convictions, saying there was no evidence to substantiate the charges.
The 77-year-old billionaire was accused of paying thousands of pounds for sex with Karima el-Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer, who was 17 at the time of the alleged offences.
Prostitution is legal in Italy but only if the woman is above the age of 18.
Both denied they ever had sex, and Mr Berlusconi insisted his bunga bunga parties were "elegant dinners" rather than orgies in which young starlets and showgirls performed strip-teases.
Mr Berlusconi was also accused of putting pressure on officers in a police station in Milan to release Miss Mahroug after she was detained on a charge of stealing cash and jewellery from a flat-mate in May 2010.
Mr Berlusconi told the station commander that Miss Mahroug was the grand-daughter of Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian leader, and that her detention would cause an international incident.
Mr Berlusconi was not in court yesterday, but released a statement in which he said he was "deeply moved" by the acquittal. "Only those who have been close to me in these last few years know how much I have suffered for an unjust and insulting accusation."
He spent the morning performing social services at a home outside Milan for people with Alzheimer's disease, which he does once a week as part of his sentence for tax fraud.
Franco Coppi, one of his lawyers, said: "I'm very satisfied, it goes beyond even our rosiest expectations."
Francesca Pascale, Mr Berlusconi's 29-year-old girlfriend, wrote on social media: "It's the most wonderful day of my life. I cried like a baby."
Daniela Santanche, an MP with his centre-Right Forza Italia party, said on Twitter: "Berlusconi acquitted! Finally, the truth." (© Daily Telegraph)