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Italian court sentences Berlusconi to 7 years in jail


08:13, June 25, 2013

MILAN, Italy, June 24 (Xinhua) -- A Milan court on Monday sentenced former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi to a seven-year jail term and a lifetime ban from politics for paying sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his power to cover it up.

The first-level verdict came at the end of a two-year-long trial composed of 50 hearings. There are two more levels of appeal before the sentence would become final.

Prosecutors had requested the media entrepreneur to be handed a six-year prison term and banned for life from holding public office for allegedly paying for sex with an underage Moroccan former dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known as "Ruby Heartstealer."

According to prosecutors, Berlusconi had sex with El Mahroug when she was 17 and phoned to a police station when he was prime minister in May 2010 after she was detained on an unrelated theft accusation.

He allegedly claimed that she was a niece of Egypt's then president Hosni Mubarak and pressured police to release her supposedly to avoid a diplomatic incident between the two countries.

Both Berlusconi and El Mahroug denied ever having sex. The now 20-year-old apologized for falsely claiming to be related to Mubarak, while Berlusconi insisted that he was the victim of left-wing magistrates since he entered politics in 1994.

Dozens of showgirls have described sex parties that young women were paid to attend at the Berlusconi's houses. The 76-year-old, who has always denied any wrongdoing, has faced multiple fraud and corruption trials but convictions have always either been overturned on appeal or the statute of limitations ran out.

On Monday, reporters from around the world gathered at the entrance to the courthouse where strong arguments also broke out between Berlusconi's supporters and opponents.

The verdict came days after Italy's highest court rejected an appeal of Berlusconi who argued that a 2010 hearing of another trial which upheld a four-year jail sentence and five-year ban on public office should never have taken place due to his right to "legitimate impediment."

The former prime minister was also appealing a one-year term for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap and facing indictment for allegedly paying Senators to topple a center-left government.

By the end of this week the highest court is also expected to issue a final verdict confirming or rejecting a conviction which gave more than half a billion euros damages to his media rival Carlo De Benedetti because of the fraudulent takeover of the Mondadori publishing house.

Berlusconi resigned in November 2011 in disgrace sparked by the Ruby trial and other scandals, as well as fears that Italy could fall victim to the eurozone debt crisis. But even though the three-time premier is no longer in government, he is still very much in control behind it.

The fragile left-right coalition of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, which took power in April after two months of post-election deadlock, depends on the votes of Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party for its survival.

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