Berlusconi 'may have bribed witnesses in pimp trial'

Judges explain convictions against Minetti, Fede, Mora

Berlusconi 'may have bribed witnesses in pimp trial'

(By Sandra Cordon) Milan, November 29 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi is strongly suspected of attempting to corrupt the criminal trial that convicted three associates of providing him with prostitutes, one of whom was a showgirl known as Ruby who was underage at the time, the judges of the Fifth Criminal Chamber of the Milan court said Friday. In their written judgment, the judges said they believe that Berlusconi made regular payments to witnesses in the case and that this led to a "pollution of evidence" at the trial, resulting in the corruption of the process. They said they had referred the matter to the prosecutor's office in Milan to further investigate both Berlusconi and his lawyers. In July Emilio Fede, a well-known anchorman with the Berlusconi-owned TG4 television station, Lele Mora, a former talent scout, and Nicole Minetti, the ex-premier's former dental hygienist and ex-Lombardy councilor, were convicted of organizing alleged "bunga bunga" sex parties at Berlusconi's Arcore residence near Milan. Fede and Mora were both given seven-year prison sentences and banned for life from public office while Minetti was sentenced to five years in prison and banned from office for as many years. All three were expected to appeal their convictions and sentences. During their trial, prosecutors compared Fede and Mora to "tasters of fine wine" saying that they tested the girls before putting them into "the circuit of the Arcore nights". In the statement Friday, the judges said that evidence at the pimping trial showed that many of the witnesses made identical statements during the trial, suggesting they had been coached. In a related case, Berlusconi is also appealing a seven-year sentence and lifetime ban from office for paying the under-age Karima 'Ruby' El Mahroug for sex and then abusing his office in a lie to cover it up. On Friday, the judges suggested several comments and events outside the courtroom during the pimping trial had apparently been organized to corrupt the judicial process, including a protest in April by Mahroug who used legal terms and statements that made clear she had been coached, they said. In the several ongoing and previous trials, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a minority group of allegedly left-wing prosecutors and judges who he says are persecuting him for political reasons. In connection with that trial, many of the 32 witnesses who testified in Berlusconi's defence have been accused by judicial sources of allegedly committing perjury. Sources said that several political associates of Berlusconi as well as 18 of the 32 young women who took part in Berlusconi's parties perjured themselves. The women supported Berlusconi's claims that the gatherings at his home were not "bunga bunga" sex parties but innocent and merry affairs featuring burlesque performances. Berlusconi's legal woes have taken a harsh turn recently. On Wednesday, Berlusconi was ejected from the Senate following his definitive conviction in August on tax fraud charges.

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