Prosecutors have presented closing arguments in Silvio Berlusconi's trial for contracting an underage sex worker and abuse of office in a legal storm that is shaking the government. A verdict could come later this month.
Prosecutors demanded a sentence of six years in jail and a lifetime ban from public office for former Premier Silvio Berlusconi near the end of his trial in Milan over sex-for-hire allegations.
Monday's hearing of closing arguments stem from proceedings begun two years ago. Prosecutors had charged in 2010 that Berlusconi, then Italy's prime minister, threw "bunga bunga" parties at his luxury residence outside Milan. Berlusconi had vigorously denied the charges.
"The women invited to the then prime minister's private residence were part of a prostitution system set up for the personal sexual satisfaction of the defendant Silvio Berlusconi," prosecutor Ilda Boccassini said in a live feed from the courtroom broadcast by news channel Sky TG 24.
The prosecution alleged that Berlusconi frequently paid for sex with Karima El-Mahroug, a Moroccan-born runaway and exotic dancer nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer" who was just 17 at the time, and that the girl eventually became the prime minister's favorite.
Prosecutors also alleged that, when police arrested El-Mahroug for petty theft, Berlusconi called the police station to pressure for her release from custody because he feared she could reveal details about their arrangement.
Berlusconi, 76, denied the charges, calling the trial "judicial persecution" by left-wing prosecutors. He said the gatherings were not bunga bunga parties at all, but elegant dinners followed by "burlesque contests" in a downstairs discotheque.
Prosecutors and some attendees called those "burlesque contests" hardcore strip shows followed by sex for money with some of the dancers. Three Berlusconi associates - an entertainment agent, a former television anchor and a former regional assemblywoman - face pimping charges in a separate but linked trial.
For her part, El-Mahroug repeatedly denied having sex with Berlusconi and complained that neither the prosecution nor the defense had asked her to testify. However, she did boast of a liaison with Berlusconi to friends, and telephone intercepts leaked to Italian media appeared to show that she had sought a payoff from the prime minister.
The trial saw delays of over two months, with Berlusconi hospitalized for an eye ailment, an ultimately denied request for a change of venue and Italy voting in a new parliament. In that election, Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL), again running the ex-prime minister as its top candidate, won about 30 percent of the vote in both chambers.
Since he entered politics in the 1990s as a media magnate, Berlusconi has found himself continuously under investigation or on trial. Earlier in May, a court in Milan upheld an October 2012 conviction on tax fraud charges, which would confirm the one year prison sentence and five-year ban from public office he had been given, though that remains frozen pending a second appeal. Prosecutors in Naples have also recently requested a trial against Berlusconi for on charges of bribing a left-wing senator to join his party.
These legal woes have strained relations within current Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government, in which Berlusconi's PdL makes for the key partner in a grand coalition. Letta, a moderate leftist, reacted angrily when Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, of PdL, attended a rally against the judiciary which Berlusconi also took part in on Saturday.
mkg/ipj (AFP, AP)