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Continued: Berlusconi convicted in sex-for-hire trial, sentenced to 7 years and lifetime ban in office

  • Article by: COLLEEN BARRY , Associated Press
  • Last update: June 24, 2013 - 5:15 PM

Berlusconi's high-stakes judicial woes are far from over. He faces a final appeal in a tax fraud conviction for which he has been sentenced to four years in jail and a five-year ban from office.

Roberto D'Alimonte, a political analyst for il Sole 24 Ore daily and professor at Rome's LUISS University, said the tax fraud conviction poses the more immediate threat since Italy's highest court is likely to rule before the statute of limitations runs out.

The sex-for-hire case "weakens him politically, but not that much, because we have seen that his voter base seems to be insulated from the impact of these sentences. We saw in the last elections, everyone thought he was dead, but he came back to life," D'Alimonte said.

While the verdict drew intense international media coverage, with half a dozen satellite vans parked outside the Milan courthouse, there was only a smattering of public interest. A few anti-Berlusconi protesters gathered outside, and just a handful of citizens joined journalists crammed inside the small courtroom.

"For 20 years, he's been running Italy. He's done what he wanted," said Aurelio De Boni, a retired suit salesman from Milan who attended the trial.

Neither Berlusconi nor el-Mahroug testified in this trial. El-Mahroug was called by the defense but failed to show, delaying the trial, and Berlusconi's team eventually dropped her from the witness list.

El-Mahroug, however, did testify in the separate trial of three Berlusconi aides charged with procuring prostitutes for the parties. She told that court that Berlusconi's disco featured aspiring showgirls dressed as sexy nuns and nurses performing striptease acts, and that one woman even dressed up as President Barack Obama.

El-Mahroug, now 20, said in the other trial that she attended about a half-dozen parties at Berlusconi's villa, and that after each, Berlusconi handed her an envelope with up to 3,000 euros ($3,900). She said she later received 30,000 euros cash from the then-premier, paid through an intermediary — money that she told Berlusconi she wanted to use to open a beauty salon, despite having no formal training.

But she denied ever receiving millions from the billionaire, as she had claimed to acquaintances, saying they were "lies" meant to inflate her own importance.

She was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters but passed herself off as 24. She also claimed she was related to then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Berlusconi's lawyers argued that he believed el-Mahroug was indeed Mubarak's niece, and he called police after she was accused of theft in a bid to avoid a diplomatic incident.

Berlusconi, who has been tried numerous times relating to his business dealings, has been convicted in other cases at the trial level. But those convictions have always either been overturned on appeal or else the statute of limitations has run out before Italy's high court could have its say.

The sex-for-hire case is the first involving his personal conduct.

Later this week, Italy's highest court has scheduled a hearing on Berlusconi's appeal to a verdict ordering him to pay 560 million euros ($800 million) to a rival media group over corruption in the acquisition of the Mondadori publishing empire. And a preliminary hearing will begin in Naples to decide if Berlusconi should be tried for allegedly bribing a lawmaker to bolt a previous center-left government under Romano Prodi and join his party, a move that weakened Prodi's slim majority.

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