Berlusconi Convicted On Underage Sex Charges
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been convicted on charges that he paid for sex with an underage girl while he was in office:
ROME — A court in Milan on Monday found former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi guilty of paying for sex with a minor and abusing his office to cover it up, handing him a seven-year jail sentence and banning him from public office for life.
Mr. Berlusconi waited more than three hours before posting his disappointment on his Facebook page. “I was really convinced that they would acquit me, because it was impossible to condemn me based on the facts,” Mr. Berlusconi wrote.
“Instead they issued an incredible verdict, of untold violence that has never been seen before, in order to eliminate me from the political life of this country. Not only is this a page of bad justice, but it is an offense to all those Italians who believed in me, and trusted my commitment towards this country. But I, once again, mean to resist against this persecution because I am absolutely innocent and I don’t want to abandon my battle to make Italy a free and just country.”
The ruling, like most things involving Mr. Berlusconi, polarized Italy. It shook the governing coalition in which Mr. Berlusconi’s center-right party is participating, but was not expected to topple it. The former prime minister, who denies wrongdoing, does not immediately have to leave his seat in Parliament while the case faces two rounds of appeals.
The trial, involving a then under-age woman named Karima El-Mahroug, nicknamed “Ruby Heart-Stealer,” had become the most personal, and tawdry, of Mr. Berlusconi’s many legal sagas. The three presiding judges, all women, handed Mr. Berlusconi a seven-year sentence, tougher than the six years that prosecutors had requested.
Demonstrators, both pro and anti-Berlusconi, gathered outside the Milan courthouse for the ruling, and the courtroom was packed with journalists from around the world.
Mr. Berlusconi, 76, who is widely seen as remaining in politics in order to keep his parliamentary immunity and to protect his business interests — has vehemently denied all the charges, accusing prosecutors of being on a left-wing witch hunt against him. His critics wonder how it is possible that he can remain in office in light of his legal woes.
The ruling inevitably puts strains on the nearly two-month-old government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, a coalition that unites the prime minister’s center-left Democratic Party with Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party for the first time.
Still, Sergio Fabbrini, director of the school of government at Luiss University in Rome, said he did not expect the court’s ruling to deeply threaten the government.
Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party and its bloc placed a narrow second in February’s elections, which led to months of stalemate and eventually a coalition government led by Mr. Letta. Despite his many legal cases and scandals, Mr. Berlusconi remains the strongest leader of the center-right in Italy, bolstered by a significant lack of viable alternatives.
But Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity has been slipping in opinion polls, Mr. Fabbrini noted, and the former prime minister has no interest in withdrawing his support from the coalition for the moment. “I don’t see how they could go to new elections,” Mr. Fabbrini said.
“I expect a lot of criticism” of the magistrates and “a lot of smoke, but no serious risk,” he added. Mr. Berlusconi “is in a corner; he can’t transform this verdict into an electoral campaign this time.”
Well of course not, this is Italy after all.