Berlusconi aides guilty of sex charges

Three associates sentenced for procuring prostitutes for ‘bunga bunga’ parties

Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi talks to colleagues during a vote in the Senate in Rome yesterday.

Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi talks to colleagues during a vote in the Senate in Rome yesterday.


[/BYLINE1][BYLINE2]in Rome

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi suffered yet another setback in his battle with the Italian judiciary when a Milan court yesterday found three of his close associates guilty of procuring prostitutes for his infamous “bunga bunga” parties at his Arcore residence near Milan.

Agent Lele Mora and TV news editor Emilio Fede received seven-year sentences in the so-called “Rubygate 2” trial, while former Lombardy regional councillor Nicole Minetti was given a five-year sentence. All three, who are expected to appeal, were sentenced in relation to their role in organising the “bunga bunga” nights.

Berlusconi has already been sentenced to seven years with a lifetime ban on holding public office in a related trial for paying for sex with former nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, also known by her stagename Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was a minor.

As at Berlusconi’s “Rubygate” trial three weeks ago, the court transmitted trial documents and the names of 33 witnesses, including that of Berlusconi, to the public prosecutor’s office. The judges want prosecutors to investigate whether Berlusconi lied when testifying in his three associates’ defence and should face further charges.

[CROSSHEAD]No-confidence motion
[/CROSSHEAD]In a separate development yesterday, the 10-week-old coalition of Italian prime minister Enrico Letta comfortably avoided an early collapse when the Italian senate overwhelmingly rejected, 226 to 55, an opposition no-confidence motion tabled against minister of the interior Angelino Alfano, secretary of Berlusconi’s PDL party.

The motion had been tabled in protest at Mr Alfano’s controversial handling of the illicit “rendition” to Kazakhstan in early June of Alma Shalabayeva, wife of Kazakh dissident oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, and her six-year-old daughter, Alua. Notwithstanding the reservations of Amnesty International and the UN human rights office in Geneva, the senate yesterday appeared to adopt a logic that sacrificed humanitarian concerns to the need to keep the Letta government in place.

In recent days, Mr Berlusconi’s PDL party had made it clear that if the senate voted in favour of the no-confidence motion, it would pull out of the coalition with Mr Lett’s PD party. Mr Alfano is widely perceived to be Mr Berlusconi’s “point man” in the Letta cabinet.

Many commentators believe that the rapidity, not to say illegality, of the Shalabayeva rendition had been brought about by the willingness of PDL elements in the government to do a favour to energy-rich, democracy-poor Kazakhstan.

Speaking to the senate yesterday, Mr Letta called the affair “a source of discredit and embarrassment” but insisted that Mr Alfano, who is also deputy prime minister, had not been involved. Mr Letta called the rendition “unacceptable” and promised to look into it.

[CROSSHEAD][/CROSSHEAD]Mr Letta has claimed that neither he nor anyone in his government knew how Kazakh diplomats had been able to prevail on Italian police to arrest and almost immediately deport Ms Shalabayeva from Rome to Astana at the end of May.

[CROSSHEAD]‘Extraordinary rendition’
[/CROSSHEAD]A UN report called the deportation an “extraordinary rendition, which is of great concern to us”, adding that Ms Shalabayeva and her daughter were “legal residents” in the EU “when they were expelled”.

Mr Letta, however, appeared to argue that the survival of his executive was more important to Italy than human rights considerations, saying the rejection of the no-confidence motion would allow his government to work at resolving problems linked to VAT, property tax, pensions and the payment of public debts.