Party over for Berlusconi as Milan court gives him seven years over ‘Rubygate’
Former Italian prime minister banned for life from public office
Members of the public celebrate after Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison in Milan yesterday. Photograph: Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images
Such is the impact of the explosive Milan court judgment that yesterday saw former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi banned for life from public office and sentenced to seven years in jail that an obvious question presents itself: is this “Rubygate” sentence a conviction too far even for the previously irrepressible great survivor?
It is at least arguable that nothing in Berlusconi’s 20- year-long battle with the Italian judiciary has been as potently controversial as the Rubygate accusations, which alleged that an EU head of government could find the time while attending an OECD summit in Paris to contact a Milan police station late at night to have a 17- year-old dancer accused of theft released from custody.
More worrying than that, perhaps, is the consideration that the person who informed Berlusconi that the teenager, Karima “Ruby” El Mahroug, was in detention was a Brazilian prostitute called Michelle Conceiçao De Oliveira.
Is it normal for such people as Ms De Oliveira to have a mobile phone number that gives her access to an EU head of government?
Abuse of office
For many commentators, it has long been obvious that of the two accusations faced by Berlusconi in the Rubygate trial, namely “involvement in underage prostitution” and “abuse of office”, the latter might give him the greatest grief.
The commonsense view has always been that the astute Berlusconi was far too worldly wise and hard-headed to really believe, as he claimed to the Milan police, that a 17-year-old Moroccan who turned up at one of his infamous parties could possibly be a relative of the then Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
As for the question of “underage” sex with the then 17-year- old, that almost seems a secondary issue when placed alongside the image of an EU head of government apparently willing to bully police and social service officials in order to cover up his relationships with Milanese ladies of the night.
The sexual question, however, is important. The central argument of the prosecution’s case was that Berlusconi had created a “well-established system of prostitution” that reduced the female body to an offensive “meat market”.
This seemed an incredibly harsh accusation in that it portrayed Berlusconi as a sex-obsessed 76-year-old. Yet four years ago, in an open letter to Italian news agency Ansa, Berlusconi’s separated wife, Veronica Lario, had announced the end of her marriage, saying she could no longer live with a man who consorted with minors, adding:
“From what I read [of the electoral candidates], there emerges the picture of a shameless disgrace, the figures of virgins who offer themselves to the dragon in order to achieve success and notoriety. And by a strange alchemy, the country concedes all and justifies all to its emperor.
“I have tried in every way to help him and I have implored the people around him to do the same, as one would for any person who is sick, but all of this was to no avail.”
Is it possible that the country will this time not “concede all” to its emperor? Even though the centre-left Democratic Party refused to comment on the judgment last night, others were less reticent.
Call to abandon public life
Niki Vendola, leader of the hardline leftist party SEL, was one of many who called on Berlusconi to abandon public life.
Alessando Di Batista of the M5S protest movement said the former prime minister should go to prison, adding: “Until he goes to prison, this country will never be free.”