ROME — Silvio Berlusconi has been convicted to seven years by a Milan court on charges of paying for sex with a minor and abusing his powers as prime minister to try and cover it up. The verdict ends a highly sensitive two-year trial that could impact both the Italo media-mogul-turned pol’s political career and his Mediaset TV empire.
The court also ruled that Berlusconi is to be banned for life from public office.
Three female judges deliberated the ruling for six hours in the Milan courthouse on Monday, as throngs of reporters and several TV satellite trucks waited outside. The case, centered around Berlusconi’s so-called “bunga bunga” parties, has drawn plenty of international media attention.
Berlusconi, 76, claims he is innocent. He now has two more levels of appeal before the guilty verdict becomes final, including his public office ban. He was not in court.
Berlusconi’s lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, immediately announced an appeal and said the sentence was both expected and unfair.
“This is beyond reality,” Ghedini told reporters outside the courthouse. The sentence was even stiffer than the six-year prison term and lifetime ban on public office that prosecutors had originally requested.
The appeals process could take years.
Prosecutors had asked for Berlusconi to be sentenced to six years for paying for sex with former stripper Karima El Mahroug, known as “Ruby the Heartstealer,” when she was under 18, and also for personally calling the Milan police station to secure her release from police custody when he was prime minister.
Berlusconi, who claims Milan magistrates are out to get him for political reasons, is currently a member of parliament and heads the conservative PDL force, which is a key component of the country’s current government coalition.
Though Berlusconi has faced at least 20 trials since going into politics in 1994, his previous cases always pertained to his business matters at Mediaset, never his personal conduct while running the country.
Political analysts in Italy have differing views over whether the verdict will weaken Italy’s government. But all agree it marks a blow to Berlusconi’s own political future, which, in turn, has always had an impact on Mediaset, which had historically always benefited from his clout.
That said, an upcoming Berlusconi trial being reopened later this week, could have more immediate consequences on the billionaire’s bottom line.
It involves the allegedly illegal takeover by Berlusconi’s Fininvest holding company of Italo publisher Mondadori. Fininvest is appealing a whopping $733 million fine in that case.
Also upcoming is the final appeal of the Mediaset tax fraud case in which Berlusconi was convicted to four years behind bars in October for allegedly creating an offshore slush fund to evade taxes in a scheme involving multimillion-dollar deals with Hollywood studios, including Paramount and Fox.