Silvio Berlusconi bunga bunga trial: six things you should know
After a trial lasting more than two years, it is finally the day of reckoning for Silvio Berlusconi and his "bunga bunga" sex trial. Here is a reminder of what it is all about, who it involves and what is at stake.
What charges does Silvio Berlusconi face?
Silvio Berlusconi faces two charges – both of which he denies – abuse of office and paying for sex with an allegedly under age prostitute, a Moroccan-born nightclub dancer called Ruby the Heart Stealer.
The abuse of office concerns calls he made to a Milan police station in May 2010 to have Ruby – real name, Karima El Mahroug – released from custody on a theft charge. She was 17 at the time. He was allegedly alerted to the arrest by Michelle Conceicao, a Brazilian showgirl who prosecutors allege was working as a prostitute, who called him on his mobile phone – at the time he was attending an OSCE summit in Paris.
The alleged cover-up: Prosecutors say Mr Berlusconi was terrified that police would find out that the young woman had been attending his so-called "bunga bunga" parties at his villa outside Milan. He allegedly wanted to hush up his relationship with Ruby, who prosecutors say attended 13 of the parties, starting on Valentine's Day, 2010. He told the police in Milan that Ruby was the granddaughter of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader, and that she must be released in order to avoid a diplomatic incident with Cairo. He ordered Nicole Minetti, an Anglo-Italian showgirl turned politician, to go to the police station to fetch Miss El Mahroug. She was then consigned to the care of Miss Conceicao, the Brazilian starlet.
What penalties does he face?
Prosecutors have asked for Mr Berlusconi to be found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. They also want him banned from public office for five years. The three judges who will make the decision are all women.
What is "bunga bunga"?
There are two explanations of where the phrase comes from and what it means. Mr Berlusconi says it is from a politically incorrect joke that he likes to tell about a pair of Left-wing politicians who are captured by a tribe of cannibals in Africa. The second explanation is that it is a phrase he borrowed from his friend, the late Muammar Gaddafi, and refers to a harem of young women. Either way, it has come to mean erotic parties and sexual favours dispensed by young women.
What happened at the parties?
Prosecutors allege that more than 30 glamorous young women attended Mr Berlusconi's parties, performing strip teases and erotic dances in an underground "bunga bunga" room which featured a stage, a bar and a small dance floor. On one occasion they kissed and fondled a statuette of Priapus, the god of fertility. They allegedly "touched the intimate parts" of Mr Berlusconi, who in turn touched them intimately, according to witness statements compiled by prosecutors. The then prime minister allegedly gave the women thousands of euros each time to attend the parties.
Who is Ruby the Heart Stealer?
Karima El Mahroug was born in Morocco but brought to Italy as a child. Her immigrant parents settled in Sicily, where they struggled to make ends meet. She ran away from home several times in her teens. She took part in a beauty contest, where she was spotted by Emilio Fede, a friend of Mr Berlusconi's who works as a presenter on one of his TV channels. Mr Fede allegedly invited the teenager to attend a "bunga bunga" party at Mr Berlusconi's villa near Milan. In a separate trial, he faces charges of procuring prostitutes for Mr Berlusconi. The prime minister took a shine to her and allegedly gave her tens of thousands of euros in cash. Prosecutors insist she had sex with him in exchange for the money, but she denies that and says she has never worked as an escort.
What are the chances that Mr Berlusconi will end up in jail?
Slim. Even if he is convicted on one or both of the charges, his lawyers will launch an appeal. He will remain at liberty pending that appeal. If he loses that, he will have recourse to a second appeal, which would be heard by Italy's Supreme Court. The whole process could drag the case out for years. And Italian courts rarely jail people in their seventies, unless they are convicted of really serious charges such as murder.