Berlusconi allies point to 'political attack' in Ruby ruling

Prosecutor's six-year jail term request seen as 'exorbitant'

Berlusconi allies point to 'political attack' in Ruby ruling

Milan, May 14 - Allies of Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday came out in force against a Milan prosecutor's request Monday the former premier be sentenced to a combined six-year jail term for abuse of power and for having sex with an alleged underage prostitute known as Ruby. Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini also asked the three-women panel of judges to hand the three-time premier a life ban from public office. Allies of Berlusconi, head of the centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, said the sentence amounted to a "political attack". "Regarding the Ruby issue, from the very fragile and I'd say inconsistent accusations and the exorbitant requests of the public prosecutors, Italians have understood what needed to be understood. There is a political attack underway against a leader democratically elected by 10 million Italians," said Daniele Capezzone, PdL co-ordinator and head of the House Finance Committee. Capezzone said the prosecutor's request was an attempt to "change the result of elections in which someone was unable to defeat Berlusconi and the PdL". Mariastella Gelmini, who held the education brief in the former Berlusconi government - which was forced to resign in late 2011 and was replaced by the technocratic administration of Mario Monti - said the sentence handed down to the PdL leader was a clear example of "political use of justice". "We are being faced with a political use of justice. A castle of accusations has been built which resists all denials, which don't bend even in light of incontrovertible facts and witness depositions," Gelmini said in an interview with Rome daily Il Messaggero Tuesday. "There are some 300 witnesses who deny that during those dinners anything improper occurred, against four or five who tell the opposite," Gelmini added, referring to testimony given about dinner parties during which Berlusconi is said to have had sex with Ruby - key parts of the public prosecutors' case against the media tycoon. In the interview Gelmini reiterated, however, that the sentence requested for Berlusconi would not have implications on the PdL's support for the left-right government led by Premier Enrico Letta, which came into power on April 30. Marco Meloni, an MP for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the other main party backing the current government, said there was nothing unusual in the ruling and that it was time to move on. Referring to the often very public spat between politicians and the judiciary, Meloni said it was time to "recognize that in Italy trials are carried out as a guarantee to the citizens and that all citizens are equal before the law, even Silvio Berlusconi". On Monday Boccassini requested five years for abuse of office and one year for paying for sex with Ruby, a nightclub dancer of Moroccan origin whose real name is Karima El Mahroug. Aside from the charge of paying for sex with Ruby, Berlusconi is also charged with allegedly abusing his position as then premier to spring her from a police station on an unrelated theft claim. Phoning from Paris, he told police she should be released to avoid a diplomatic incident with Egypt because she had told him she was a relative of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Berlusconi sent a Brazilian prostitute and former Lombardy councillor Nicole Minetti - who is accused of pimping for Berlusconi in a separate trial - to pick Ruby up. The ex-premier and media magnate was facing maximum possible terms of three years and 12 years on the sex and abuse-of-office charges. Berlusconi and Ruby deny having sex and say the 4.5 million euros he gave her was a gift to help the young woman - who had earned the ex-premier's sympathy with a tale of escaping from an allegedly brutal Muslim father - set up a beauty salon. Boccassini told the court Monday there was "no doubt" Ruby was a prostitute, even before she spent several nights at Berlusconi's villa, and that they had had sex. Berlusconi's defense team will present its side on June 3. A court ruling is expected on June 24. The sex case is the most sensational and potentially the most dangerous in a series of trials against a man who has reclaimed centre stage in politics with the formation of Italy's new right-left government. Last week, however, Berlusconi suffered a legal setback when his four-year tax-fraud conviction in trading film rights at his Mediaset media empire was upheld on appeal. The case now goes to Italy's supreme Court of Cassation. Berlusconi is also appealing a one-year sentence for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap. Naples prosecutors have also requested the media magnate be indicted for allegedly bribing a Senator to change political colours and help bring down Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 centre-left government. Berlusconi claims to be the victim of biased prosecutors who have been conducting a witch-hunt against him since he entered politics in 1994. His party held a demonstration over the weekend in the northern Italian city of Brescia protesting judicial "persecution" in response to the Mediaset tax fraud ruling. Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and other PdL bigwigs attended, drawing fire from the centre-left. Premier Letta subsequently instructed ministers to refrain from such displays, as well as appearances on TV. On the eve of the Ruby request, Berlusconi's flagship Canale 5 channel aired a programme on the trial slammed by opponents as only presenting the defence view that the ex-premier's alleged bunga bunga sex parties were lively but innocent affairs. The controversy was dampened when it emerged that less than 6% of viewers tuned in. Berlusconi and his family control stock market-listed television empire Mediaset SpA, among other assets. Berlusconi's continued control of television channels Italia 1, Canale 5 and Rete 4 - the three main competitors to state-owned RAI's offering - has long been a bone of contention and a lightning rod of criticism since he entered politics in 1994 at the head of the then-Forza Italia party.

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