Berlusconi Gets 7-Year Sentence For Paying A Minor For Sex

An Italian court has found former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi guilty of paying for sex with a minor, a then teenaged pole dancer known on stage as "Ruby the Heartstealer." The court also convicted Berlusconi of abuse of power for having her released from police custody after she was arrested for an unrelated theft. The court sentenced Berlusconi to seven years but he will not go to jail pending appeal to higher courts.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Italy, today, a guilty verdict for the controversial former prime minister. Silvio Berlusconi was convicted in a Milan court of paying a minor for sex at one of his notorious parties. He was also convicted of abuse of office for trying to cover it up. Berlusconi says he's the target of a left-wing judicial witch-hunt.

And for more on this story, we go to NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, in Rome. And, Sylvia, briefly take us back and explain what this case is all about.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, it started in 2010. The young woman at the center was 17. Karima El Mahroug, also known as Ruby Heart Stealer, was a Moroccan-born pole dancer. And when she was arrested on charges of theft, Berlusconi called up police headquarters in Milan. He told them that the young woman was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's granddaughter and should be released in order to avoid a diplomatic incident. And she was let go.

Prosecutors started investigating and discovered the so-called bunga-bunga parties. And wiretaps and court testimony described raunchy scenes in a disco-like room where the women dressed up as sexy nuns and nurses and perform stripteases for Berlusconi, receiving money and gifts in return. Prosecutors say El Mahroug was paid almost $6 million for her denial of having had sex with Berlusconi.

The trial lasted two years in a climate of high tension. At one point, a large group of deputies from Berlusconi's Conservative Party staged a noisy protest inside the courthouse.

SIEGEL: And the sentence is seven years. What do you make of that?

POGGIOLI: It was very harsh. In fact, the three-judge panel - all women - imposed a lifetime ban from public office and gave Berlusconi one more year than what the prosecutors had asked. And they also ordered that all the testimony given in court by witnesses in favor of Berlusconi be sent to prosecutors for investigation of possible perjury charges. And that witness list includes not just showgirls but also police officers and members of Berlusconi's political party.

SIEGEL: Clearly, Silvio Berlusconi is not one to apologize. Tell us more about his reaction to the verdict.

POGGIOLI: He called it a verdict of unprecedented violence and vowed to resist what he described as an attempt to persecute him. But, you know, his legal woes go beyond this trial. Just a few days ago, he was convicted on appeal of tax fraud and given a four-year prison sentence and a five-year ban on public office. That case comes up for its final appeal this fall. And if the verdict is upheld, that would mark the end of Berlusconi's political career.

SIEGEL: As for the bunga-bunga parties, is this the end? Is this the final judgment, the sentence, or might there yet be appeals?

POGGIOLI: Under the Italian legal system there can be two appeals. And the verdict will become effective only if it's upheld in the second appeal.

SIEGEL: And Ruby, what about the $6 million and all that that she received?

POGGIOLI: Well, we don't know but there's some reports that she may have left for Mexico. The court today, the judges also ruled that all her money be confiscated. So we don't know if she has a bag full of money with her or not.

SIEGEL: OK, that's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Thank you, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Robert.

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