Berlusconi gets 7 years, ban from office in sex trial

'Ruling beyond any logic' says ex-premier's lawyer

Berlusconi gets 7 years, ban from office in sex trial

(By Christopher Livesay) Milan, June 24 - A Milan court on Monday found Silvio Berlusconi guilty of charges he paid for sex with an underage prostitute and abused his power to try to cover up the affair and handed the ex-premier a seven-year sentence. The court also banned Berlusconi from holding public office for life. Niccolo' Ghedini, one of Berlusconi's defence lawyers, called the ruling "beyond any logic" and said his client will appeal. Ghedini stressed that the judges "had gone beyond" the six-year term prosecutors had wanted. Berlusconi and the woman judges ruled he paid for sex before she was 18, a Moroccan former dancer known as 'Ruby Heart-stealer', have both denied ever having sex. They say monies he gave her were gifts to help her set up a beauty salon, a dream she had had since escaping from an allegedly abusive, Islam-enforcing father in Sicily. Prosecutors will review the verity of such testimony in a perjury probe called for by judges after the ruling Monday. Ghedini, who is also a lawmaker for Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, had argued that the three-time premier should be acquitted because the alleged crime involving Ruby - whose real name is Karima El Mahroug - "does not exist". The abuse-of-office sentence regards Berlusconi's call to a police station on the night of May 27-28, 2010 after Ruby was detained on an unrelated theft accusation. He said he called to avoid an international incident because he was under the false impression that she was a relative of Egypt's then president Hosni Mubarak. Ghedini said his client did not ask police to accelerate procedures for Ruby's release from police custody. But judges sided with prosecutors who argued that Berlusconi, who was premier in 2010, phoned from a European leaders' meeting in Paris and pressured police in Milan to release her. Since she was under 18, a judge ordered the police to direct her to a shelter for juvenile offenders. Ruby was released to Nicole Minetti, a Lombardy regional councillor, ex-aspiring showgirl and Berlusconi's former dental hygienist, who was accompanied by another woman that took part in the parties. Ruby had backed Berlusconi's version of events and recently showed reporters a passport that was manipulated to make it look like she was a member of the Mubarak family. In a related trial, Minetti and two other people are accused of providing prostitutes - including Ruby - for parties a Milan prosecutor described as "Bacchic orgies" at the home of the ex-premier. Berlusconi and his supporters counter that they were ordinary dinner parties and argue the allegations have been invented by left-wing elements in the judiciary who are targeting him for political reasons as in several ongoing and previous trials. TV anchorman Emilio Fede, one of the alleged pimps, said he was "literally freaked out" by Monday's verdict: "I witnessed this moment with great sadness, because I'm sorry, because I am his friend and because I am certain he cannot have done what he was accused of". Berlusconi's daughter Marina said her father's "conviction had been decided from the beginning". Luca d'Alessandro, a member of the House justice commission as well as a member of Berlusconi's PdL, called the sentence "a rape of the law in the name of political combat" following the ruling - the second in one week against the ex-premier. Last week Berlusconi failed in a bid to have the Constitutional Court strike down a four-year conviction for tax fraud at his media empire along with a five-year ban from public office. Senior PdL officials have said the party's lawmakers will quit if the sentence is upheld by the supreme Court of Cassation and becomes definitive. The media tycoon is also appealing a one-year term for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap and facing indictment for allegedly buying Senators to topple a centre-left government.

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