Outrage has mounted within Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party after the embattled politician received his latest sentence. The damage to his image is significant, but the practical consequences will be limited.
Silvio Berlusconi's sentence to seven years in jail and a lifelong ban on holding public office has ignited Italy's political world. Fellow members in Berlusconi's People of Freedom party Maurizio Gasparri and Fabrizio Cichitto called the verdict "a scandal for democracy" and expressed their outrage on various television channels.
Politicians on the left like Nichi Vendola, president of the Apulia region in southern Italy, used the judgment in the so-called "Rubygate" case to demand Berlusconi's withdrawal from politics.
Dozens of residents gathered in front of the courthouse in Milan where the verdict was read to cheer on state prosecutor Ilda Boccassini for her successful reconstruction of events in Berlusconi's villa in Arcore. The court has ruled that Berlusconi abused his office to free Karima El-Mahroug, alias Ruby, from police custody and that the former prime minister paid her for sexual favors while she was still under the age of consent.
The dancer known as Ruby has become a tabloid mainstay in Italy
Appeals on the way
Stony expressions settled over the faces of Berlusconi's defense lawyers as the verdict was read. But they say they are convinced the verdict will be overturned. The sentence will not go into effect until the appeals process has been exhausted, meaning Berlusconi does not yet have to vacate his seat in parliament.
Strictly speaking, the verdict in the Rubygate case will have no consequences for Berlusconi's political career. But the damage to his image is severe. It will be difficult for the media mogul's television broadcasters to continue portraying him as innocent.
As in the case of past convictions, Berlusconi has yet to issue a statement. Ahead of the verdict, however, he described himself as being victimized by the court system.
Politically motivated judges?
The defense insists that the Milan judges and, in particular, prosecutor Ilda Boccassini wanted to see Berlusconi behind bars for political reasons. But the defense team's efforts to have the trial moved out of Milan and into other cities were rejected by an independent council of judges.
For her part, Ruby, a former nightclub dancer from Morocco, is currently on vacation in Mexico and has not made a public statement following the court's decision. The 20-year-old denies having had sex with Silvio Berlusconi and has since given birth to a child and married a nearly 50-year-old businessman.
Further judgments pending
The verdict in the Rubygate trial has drawn attention because it was more severe than the sentence sought by the prosecution. But it will change little in Italian political life. It is already the third conviction within a few months for Silvio Berlusconi. He was also found guilty in a case involving the insurance company Unipol that involved a conspiracy to publish tapped telephone conversations among the former prime minister's political opponents. He was also convicted after a trial relating to the fraudulent purchase and sale of television rights.
But the trial Berlusconi likely fears the most is still underway. Following an appeal, he was sentenced to four years in jail and five years exclusion from office. Now the third and final appeals court is checking solely to see whether any procedural errors were committed during the previous trial. If not, then the verdict will go into effect, and Berlusconi would be forced to give up his membership in the Senate, Italy's upper house of parliament. That would be more disastrous for his party than a prison sentence, which he would not have to serve due to his advanced age.
Some of Berlusconi's fellow party members whose parliamentary seats he helped secure are so outraged that they are threatening to withdraw their support for the governing coalition should Berlusconi ultimately be found guilty.
But Democratic Party member Roberto Speranza believes things will not escalate to the point of governmental collapse, saying, "The problems of an individual person will not decide our government. And court verdicts should not be commentated but rather respected."
At least in terms of the Rubygate case, that's a guideline very few seem capable of following.