Berlusconi charged with witness corruption

Trial set for 5 April in Milan.

Silvio Berlusconi, 80, has been formally charged with attempting to corrupt witnesses to testify on his behalf, in yet a further twist in his long-running saga of legal woes.

The Milanese tycoon and politician, a four-time prime minister who has frequently topped the list of the richest persons in Italy, is said to have paid up to €10 million in the period 2011 to 2015 to a number of young women to persuade them not to testify against him in a trial for paying for sex with a minor.

The charges relate to his relations with Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima Mahroug, better known by her stage name of Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was aged 17. Although the age of consent in Italy is 14, it is illegal to pay for sex with a person aged under 18.

Berlusconi was convicted in 2014 of paying Mahroug for sexual favours and sentenced to a seven-year jail term and lifetime ban from public office. The illegal acts were said to have taken place in the context of wild “bunga-bunga” sex parties in his villa at Arcore, 20 km from Milan, and to have been witnessed by a number of young women who attended the parties. But in 2015 he was cleared on appeal, thanks to the testimony of the party-goers, and because it could not be proved that Berlusconi was aware of Mahroug’s age.

Now prosecutors say they have evidence that Berlusconi bought gifts including cars for the witnesses, paid their rent, medical expenses and other bills, and made “bonus” cash payments of up to €15,000 at a time to persuade them to testify that the parties were genteel evenings of dinner and music. Prosecutors say over half of the total he is accused of paying went to Mahroug, according to testimony by Berlusoni’s accountant.

The trial will open in Milan on 5 April. A trial of Mahroug and 22 others for corruption and perjury has already been under way since 11 January. Berlusconi’s position is being tried separately because he was unable to attend preliminary hearings for medical reasons.

In an interview with a Rome daily on 29 January, Berlusconi again denied the charges and said “certain elements of the magistrature” were “again trying to attack him at the Italians’ expense”. He has also said that this comes at a time when he is trying to make a political comeback.

Berlusconi’s long and complicated legal history has been studded with sensational twists and turns. On one occasion was he sentenced to four years in jail for fraud in 2012, but the sentence was reduced to one year under a global pardon law, and then commuted to social service as he was over 70.

In several other cases he was found not guilty, or the trial collapsed after long drawn-out delays caused the statute of prescription to kick in, which limits the number of years during which an alleged crime can be brought to justice.

The accusations against Berlusconi caused him to be ejected from the Senate and to lose his title of Cavaliere del Lavoro (Knight of the Order of Merit for Labour), although he is still mockingly referred to as “il Cavaliere”, and remains the leader of the political party Forza Italia.