Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial for bribing witnesses

Former Italian PM accused of paying ‘bunga bunga’ partygoers to commit perjury

Silvio Berlusconi: his lawyer claims he is being “tried for generosity”. Photograph:  Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty

Silvio Berlusconi: his lawyer claims he is being “tried for generosity”. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty

 

The seven-year-long judicial saga involving a 24-year-old Moroccan woman and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has not gone away. On Saturday, a Milan preliminary court ruled that the 80-year-old media tycoon must stand trial in April this year on charges of bribing witnesses at his first “Ruby” trial in 2011.

Mr Berlusconi is accused of paying witnesses, mainly many of the “showgirls” who in 2010 attended the infamous “bunga bunga” nights at his Arcore, Milan residence, to commit perjury. Many witnesses called by the defence had sustained Mr Berlusconi’s explanation that the bunga bunga nights were merely elegant dinner parties.

At the first Ruby trial, which opened in April 2011, Mr Berlusconi had faced two serious charges. First, he was accused of abuse of public office when, in May 2010, he allegedly pressurised Milan police to release Moroccan woman Karim “Ruby” El Mahroug, who had been arrested on theft charges.

On that occasion, Mr Berlusconi, ringing insistently from Paris, where he was attending an OECD summit, claimed that Ruby was a relative of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and that it could create a serious diplomatic incident were she to be arrested. Mr Berlusconi’s solicitations appear to have convinced Milan police to hand Ms Mahroug over to the care of the Forza Italia local councillor Nicole Minetti, a Berlusconi confidante.

Sex with a minor

The other charge against Mr Berlusconi at his first trial was of having paid for sex with a minor, in that he was alleged to have had sex with Ruby between February and May 2010 at a time when she was 17 years old. That first trial concluded in June 2013 with Mr Berlusconi receiving a seven-year prison sentence and a ban from public office after the court found him guilty of both charges.

It also suggested that magistrates might want to look into possible perjury committed by defence witnesses.

One year later, an appeal court ruling overturned that verdict, arguing that there had been no “abuse of office” and that there was no proof that Mr Berlusconi had known Ruby’s age. The appeals court ruling, however, concluded that “there is certain proof that Karim El Mahroug was involved in prostitution at [the Berlusconi residence] Arcore”.

Mr Berlusconi’s personal accountant, Guiseppe Spinelli, confirmed to investigators last week that, on Mr Berlusconi’s behalf, he had paid 13 of the showgirls up to last November. Most of the girls were paid about €2,500 a month, but media reports suggest that, over the years, Mr Berlusconi has paid Ruby €7 million, some of which she used to open a restaurant in Mexico.

Mr Berlusconi’s defence lawyer, Federico Cecconi, says that the forthcoming trial will make legal history because “for the first time, someone will be tried for generosity”. The Berlusconi defence has always claimed that he made the payments to the girls because their “careers” had been ruined by all the negative publicity attached to the bunga bunga trials and he wanted to help them.