Silvio Berlusconi acquitted in sex-for-hire ‘Rubygate’ case

Italian appeals court also throws out seven-year prison sentence for former prime minister

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been acquitted by the Italian appeals court. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been acquitted by the Italian appeals court. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 13:47

Media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has registered a significant victory today in his 20-year-long battle with the Italian judiciary when an Appeals Court in Milan acquitted him of the charges of “abuse of office” and “involvement in underage prostitution” in the so-called “Rubygate” trial.

Just one year ago, a Milan court had given Mr Berlusconi a seven-year sentence and a permanent ban from public life when it heard the case.

Until the court releases its “reasonings” (motivazioni) sometime within the next three months, it will not be clear just why last year’s intial ruling has been so totally overturned. However, we know the abuse of office charge was thrown out because “the fact does not exist”, ie the legal argument does not hold water.

Likewise, the underage prostitution charge in relation to then 17-year-old Moroccan Karim “Ruby” El Mahroug was thrown out because the accusation “does not constitute a crime”.

Speaking after the sentence, Mr Berlusconi’s defence lawyer, Franco Coppi, conceded that the verdict had worked out very well for his famous client. “This verdict was better than our most optimistic forecasts. But this trial could only end up with a total acquittal. If I had to give a university lesson on a case where a certain type of behaviour does not constitute a crime, then I would choose this case.”

Over the last 20 years Mr Berlusconi has featured in at least 20 major court cases in which he has been accused, but nearly always not convicted, of corruption, bribery, fraud, false bookeeping, money laundering, tax evasion and other crimes. To some extent, however, the “Rubygate” trial has been the most ignominiously controversial of all his many trials.

If the state prosecutor’s case were to be believed, it painted a picture of a Berlusconi private life in which the sex-crazed former Italian prime minister entertained himself with his own private harem usually in the “Bunga, Bunga” room at his Villa San Martino residence in Arcore, outside Milan.

Essentially, the Appeals court today had to rule on the initial court judgement relative to two critical accusations. Firstly, had his parties in Arcore been sexual orgies involving the then 17-year-old Karima “Ruby” El Mahroug or, as Mr Berlusconi has consistently claimed, had they been merely “elegant dinner parties”, featuring some after dinner “burlesque” cabaret?

Secondly, why on the night of May 27th, 2010 had Mr Berlusconi found time during an OECD summit in Paris to urgently contact the Milan police station where Ruby was being held on theft charges, to urge that she be released? Had he done so because, as he has claimed, he was keen to avoid a diplomatic incident since he genuinely believed that she was the granddaughter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak? Or had he done so in order to cover up his own involvement with “Ruby The Heart Stealer”?

In court last week, the state prosecution repeated its accusation that Mr Berlusconi had abused the office of prime minister when calling the Milan police station, in the process “ordering” the release of Ms Mahroug thanks to an “implicit threat” against police and judicial officials. According to Mr Berlusconi’s defence, the phone calls were “mere requests” to the police.

As for the accusations of having had underage sex with Ms Mahroug, the prosecution last week insisted that the young Moroccan had been involved in “the activity of prostitution” at Villa San Martino between September 2009 and May 2010. In response, the Berlusconi defence team pointed to the testimony of Ms Mahroug in which she denied ever having had sex with Mr Berlusconi.

The case will now go to a second and final appeal before Italy’s Corte di Cassazione (Supreme Court), probably in the autumn of next year.

Political commentators have immediately pointed out the “opportune” nature of today’s judgement given that it comes at a critical moment in the reform process currently being pushed through parliament by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The point about that process is that it relies on the support of Mr Berlusconi’s centre right Forza Italia party.

There had been speculation that a confirmation today of last year’s guilty verdict might have so disappointed Mr Berlusconi that he would have withdrawn his support for the constitutional reform process. That danger now appears to have been safely avoided.

Ironically, Mr Berlusconi was not in court this morning, but rather he was helping out at the “Sacra Famiglia” old people’s home in Cesano Boscone, near Milan. Mr Berlusconi goes to the home every Friday to do “community service” by way of serving the four-year (reduced to one) sentence he was given last year for tax fraud on the part of his Mediaset TV company.