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Italy's highest court to decide on Berlusconi sex case

Italian judges are reviewing a decision to acquit former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who was cleared of charges of paying for sex with a minor. If upheld, it would be the final stage of the infamous "bunga bunga" case.

The Rome-based Court of Cassation is considering whether to make Silvio Berlusconi's acquittal final - that is, confirm or reject last year's not guilty verdict - after hearing an appeal on Tuesday.

In the first ruling in 2013, the former Italian prime minister was

found guilty

of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and using his influence to cover up the incident. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from public office.

The prosecution claimed that the 78-year old billionaire had paid for sex with the Moroccan-born exotic dancer Karima el-Mahroug when she was 17. The nightclub dancer attended the so-called "bunga-bunga" sex-parties in 2010, while Berlusconi was prime minister.

However, the three-term premier was acquitted in June 2014, with appeal court judges ruling there was no evidence the billionaire abused his power or knew that the exotic dancer was 17 when the incident occurred.

The Rome-based Court of Cassation could either confirm the verdict of non-guilty, or send the case to a new appeals trial.

A broken alliance

Tuesday's hearing comes just days after the former prime minister completed his community service in a home for the elderly because of a tax fraud conviction in 2013.

Political expert Giovanni Orsina, an academic at the LUISS business school in Rome, argues the outcome is "crucial" for the politician's immediate future:

"Berlusconi's clarity of mind basically disappeared (with the tax conviction)," Orsina claims, in comments to news agency AFP.

"Since then he has been uncertain, unclear and politically ineffective. Politically, he is in a coma, but the moment he draws his final breath is not predictable.

"But if the case goes his way - and my feeling is that it is likely to - then he remains a very powerful man," Orsina said.

The current prime minister

Mateo Renzi relied on support from Berlusconi

and his Forza Italia party in order push a set of reforms through parliament. However, their political alliance broke up last month after Renzi supported a known Berlusconi opponent, Sergio Mattarella, to become the president of Italy.

Suspicion of bribery

Berlusconi is also under investigation for allegedly bribing women who attended his parties into giving false testimonies in the trial.

Berlusconi has denied everything, claiming that he merely hosted "elegant dinners" at his villa outside Milan.

The court decision is expected later on Tuesday.

dj/jr (AFP, AP, dpa)

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