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Italian court acquits Berlusconi in sex-for-hire case

An Italian court has acquitted former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of paying for sex with an underage prostitute. This overturned a conviction in which the former premier was barred from seeking political office.

The presiding judge in the Milan court on Friday, where the appeal was heard, failed to confirm the conviction and sentence handed down to the billionaire and former prime minister by a lower court last year.

"The defendant is acquitted," Judge Enrico Tranfa said.

Last year, a lower court had sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in jail and banned him from seeking any political office after finding him guilty of paying for sex with nightclub dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known by her stage name "Ruby the Heart Stealer," when she was just 17.

The lower court had also found him guilty of using his influence to get Ruby released from police custody after she was arrested on theft charges not related to the case.

Berlusconi's lawyer, Franco Coppi, told reporters that the verdict "goes beyond our rosiest expectations."

"Finally justice has been done," said Simone Furlan of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party in a statement. "Now, let's all focus on good politics to relaunch Forza Italia, tightly knit around our great leader Silvio Berlusconi."

Friday's acquittal also removes a

ban on seeking political office,

which had been imposed as part of his conviction and sentencing last year.

The four-time premier has been performing community service

at a facility near Milan for Alzheimer's patients, as part of a separate conviction on tax-fraud charges.

The appeals court's decision is not final, as the prosecution could still take the case to Italy's highest justicial institution, the court of cassation.

pfd/jlw (AP, dpa AFP)

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