Berlusconi back on the rack over sex parties

Alice Ritchie and Gildas Le Roux, Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 26 2022 08:21 PM

Former Italian prime minister  EPA-EFE
Former Italian prime minister and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi speaks during the convention of his party in Naples, Italy, on May 21, 2022. Ciro Fusco, EPA-EFE

Silvio Berlusconi dreamed of finishing his career as Italy's president, but the billionaire former premier is instead again facing the threat of criminal sanction over his notorious "bunga-bunga" sex parties.

Milan prosecutors on Wednesday requested six years in jail for the 85-year-old for allegedly paying guests to lie about the parties in the third instalment of the so-called "Ruby" affair, named after the underage exotic dancer at the centre of the case.

Berlusconi denies wrongdoing, and even if convicted has little chance of going to jail due to a long appeals process and restrictions against imprisoning the elderly.

Around 20 former guests of the parties at Berlusconi's sumptuous mansion near Milan are also on trial, accused of accepting money and gifts from the media mogul in return for their silence.

"These young women were assured that they would be OK both in terms of income, with a 2,500-euro ($2,677) monthly payment, and for a roof, a house, accommodation," prosecutor Luca Gaglio told the court in his summing up on Wednesday.

Previously, fellow prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano accused Berlusconi of hiring "sex slaves".

Young women who attended would later describe the events as sex fests, but Berlusconi always insisted they were nothing more than elegant, "convivial" dinner parties.

Berlusconi's lawyers insist payments amounting to millions of euros were compensation for the reputational damage suffered by the women from the scandal.

The former prime minister is among 29 people accused in the trial, including Karima El-Mahroug, the Moroccan teenager and dancer who used the name "Ruby", for whom prosecutors asked for five years in jail.

The verdict is expected in the autumn.

- 'Politically motivated' -

The "Ruby" investigations date back to El-Mahroug's arrest for theft in 2010 -- and Berlusconi's intervention for police to release her -- and each time Berlusconi has emerged victorious, eventually.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013 for paying for sex with El-Mahroug, but the verdict was overturned on appeal after the judge said there was reasonable doubt he knew she was underage.

A second trial, named "Ruby-bis" (Ruby Two), ended in jail terms for Berlusconi's close allies for supplying young prostitutes.

The Ruby-ter (Ruby Three) trials are spread out across several Italian cities, including in Siena, where Berlusconi was cleared last October of bribing a piano player to lie about the parties.

Berlusconi and his allies have long claimed the extensive legal proceedings against him in recent decades -- he claimed in 2021 he had gone through 86 trials -- are politically motivated.

He has never spent any time behind bars but in 2013, with his first definitive conviction for tax fraud, he carried out community service in a care home for Alzheimer's patients.

Berlusconi was prime minister three times between 1994 and 2011 and remains active in politics, although his career is reaching its twilight.

His Forza Italia party is part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi's coalition government but is languishing in the polls and his January bid to become Italy's president, a ceremonial but prestigious post, was an embarrassing failure.

He has also been plagued by health problems, saying he almost died after being hospitalised with coronavirus in September 2020.

Last year, he was again hospitalised in Milan and Monaco, due to problems with his heart, a fall at home and the after-effects of Covid.