Zee Media Bureau
Milan: A Milan court on Monday convicted former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute during infamous "bunga bunga" parties at his villa and then using his influence to try to cover it up.
Berlusconi, 76, was sentenced to seven years in prison and barred from public office for life. The ban on holding office could mean the end of Berlusconi`s two-decade political career. However, there are two more levels of appeal before the sentence would become final.
Berlusconi holds no official post in the current Italian government, but remains influential in the uneasy cross-party coalition that emerged after inconclusive February elections.
Both he and the alleged Moroccan call-girl at the center of the scandal have denied ever having sex.
The woman had told a courtroom earlier that she had previously lied to investigators about raunchy parties hosted by the billionaire tycoon.
"I am sorry I talked rubbish when I spoke to prosecutors," Karima El-Mahroug, a dancer nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer", said at a separate trial against three friends of Berlusconi`s accused of pimping for him.
"The majority of the things I said were not true," she said.
The Moroccan-born 21-year-old, who is alleged to have had sex for money with the then-prime minister several times in 2010 when she was 17, had said that Berlusconi and his accountant gave her 187,000 euros (USD 243,000) in cash.
But today she said she had "made up" the sum just to show off.
She also went back on testimony that Berlusconi had hosted strip shows for his "bodily stimulation" at his villa, saying that the girls who took part only stripped to their lingerie and there had been "no contact" with Berlusconi.
Several other young women have come forward with details of Berlusconi orgies.
Berlusconi is accused of having sex with an underage prostitute, El-Mahroug, and of abuse of office when he called up a police station in May 2010 to have El-Mahroug released from custody when she was arrested for petty theft.
A verdict in that trial, which began two years ago, is expected in June.
The main prosecutor at the trial, Ilda Boccassini, yesterday received a death threat that referred to the trial and an envelope with two bullets in it.
Also yesterday a judge who upheld Berlusconi`s conviction for tax fraud related to his television empire said that the media magnate had continued managing the fraudulent business scheme even when he was prime minister.
A verdict on Berlusconi`s final appeal in the fraud case is expected later this year.
The sentence, which has been frozen pending the appeal, is a year in prison although even if definitively convicted, he may not serve time because sentencing guidelines for over-70s are very lenient in Italy.
With Agency Inputs