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Prosecutors: Berlusconi bribed witnesses

Former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi could go back to court over the "bunga bunga" scandal. The 78-year old billionaire had paid some 10 million euros to silence witnesses during the trial, prosecutors have alleged.

Milan prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano told a press conference on Tuesday that Silvio Berlusconi engaged in an orchestrated attempt to pervert the course of justice.

According to the prosecution, the former prime minister paid some 10 million euros ($11.2 million) to bribe witnesses in the so-called "bunga bunga" case, the nickname given to a long-running sex scandal.

Berlusconi was fighting the charges of abusing power and having sex with a minor, specifically a Moroccan exotic dancer Karima El Mahroug, who had attended night-time parties in his private villa first given the "bunga bunga" moniker.

Italien Silvio Berlusconi Disco mit Karima El Mahroug in Mailand

Berlusconi's lawyers had said in past that gifts only showed their client's largesse

El Mahroug, alias Ruby Heart Stealer, allegedly received seven million euros in cash and presents, including cars and paying for accommodation. A total of 34 people, 21 of them young women, are suspected of corruption and giving false evidence, Siciliano said.

Berlusconi's lawyers claim the gifts prove only their client's generosity - an argument that Siciliano said "goes up in smoke" in light of the evidence. The bribes started in late 2011 and continued well into 2015, prosecutors claim.

A path towards trial

Berlusconi was cleared of charges earlier this year, with the court deciding that the media tycoon had sex with El Mahroug, but did not know the exotic dancer was underage at the time.

However, El Mahroug testified that she did not sleep with Berlusconi, contradicting a wiretap in which she told her friends she did so.

The prosecutors have officially informed Berlusconi, El Mahroug and other suspects that their investigation is complete. In Italian legal system, this step usually precedes a request for trial, after which a judge is required to asses the evidence and make a decision on starting the proceedings.

Too old for prison?

On Tuesday, Berlusconi said the Milan prosecutors were once again leveling accusations "based on nothing."

"I trust in the impartiality and in the common sense of judges, who have already fully acquitted me," Berlusconi said in a statement carried by the ANSA news agency and quoted by dpa.

Perverting the course of justice through corruption carries a maximum sentence of ten years. However, it might take years to exhaust all appeals, and Berlusconi could be spared prison because of his advanced age.

The 78-year old was convicted of major corporate tax fraud last year, but was only sentenced to community service and did not go to jail.

In addition, next week a court in Naples is set to rule on charges that Berlusconi bribed an opposition parliamentarian.

dj/msh (dpa, AFP)

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