Silvio Berlusconi should be jailed for six years and banned from holding office again, a prosecutor told a Milan court on Monday during a summing-up hearing for the “bunga bunga” sex and corruption trial.
The public minister Ilda Boccassini argued that the three-time Italian premier organised adult parties in which he paid for sex with a young woman whom he knew to be under age, and abused his power of office to conceal the crime. The court heard how on several occasions in 2010 Mr Berlusconi gave Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, then a 17-year-old exotic dancer nicknamed “Ruby the Heart Stealer”, envelopes full of €500 notes, in return for sexual favours. Ms Boccassini said Ms Mahroug received gifts and payments worth a total of €4.5m (£3.8 million) from the then prime minister.
Ms Mahroug has admitted receiving up to €5,000 a time for attending the soirees at Mr Berlusconi’s mansion in Arcore, near Milan, but denies ever having had sex with the 76-year-old mogul. Ms Boccassini contested: “There’s no doubt that Karima El Mahroug had sex with Berlusconi and received recompense for it. The girls invited to the parties were part of a system of prostitution organised for the sexual satisfaction of Silvio Berlusconi.”
Mr Berlusconi denies all charges and says his soirees were simply “elegant dinners”. His lawyers insist that despite a raft of wiretaps and witness statements, there is no firm evidence he had sex with Ms El Mahroug.
A verdict in the trial, which began in 2011, is due on 24 June. Mr Berlusconi will be entitled to two appeals. And under Italian sentencing rules Mr Berlusconi, as a septuagenarian, would be subject to house arrest rather than prison.
The mogul stepped up his attacks on Italy’s judiciary ahead of the hearing. On Sunday night he turned the might of his TV empire on the court, showing a two-hour ‘documentary’ on his flagship Canale 5 channel, which allowed cameras in the Arcore mansion as part of a one-sided defence.
The programme showed a garish dining room where the mogul says he hosted “refined and elegant dinners”, before descending into a bricked basement area, in which prosecutors claim the “bunga bunga” parties got going.
No neutral observers, critics of Mr Berlusconi or prosecutors were featured.
The sex case reopened just days after Berlusconi's four-year sentence for tax fraud was confirmed by an appeals court, a damaging verdict that nonetheless cannot be enforced until all appeals are exhausted.
The prostitution trial had been delayed by more than two months for elections, an eye ailment for which Berlusconi was hospitalized and a change of venue request that was denied.
Under Italian law, it is illegal to pay for sex with a minor under 18 years of age. Ms Boccassini pointed out that it was Berlusconi's own government that had raised the age from 17 - Ms el-Mahroug's age at the time of their alleged encounters.
Ms Boccassini described Ms el-Mahroug as a troubled adolescent who had run away from her parents and foster homes and had been formally accused of petty theft of wallets and expensive jewellery on several occasions. Despite not having a job she wore designer clothes and at times had as much as 1,000 euros cash.
“We have no doubt that Ruby prostituted herself” before coming in contact with anyone in Berlusconi's circle in February 2010, Ms Boccassini said.
The two trials have raised questions about Berlusconi's political future at a delicate moment for Italy. He headed the centre right coalition that finished second in February elections and which is in an uneasy coalition with the centre-left, but he has no formal government post.
If the tax fraud verdict and sentence is confirmed, it includes a five-year ban on public office. A final level of appeal is pending, and could be delivered before the end of the year.
During the documentary, aired somewhat unsurprisingly on one of Berlusconi’s own television channels last night, viewers were taken on a tour of the opulently-decorated party villa in Arcore, Lombardy.
During the interview, Berlusconi repeated his defence that guests kept their clothes on at all times, saying: “At the dinners nothing happened that could be defined as incorrect or embarrassing.”
He added: “There was a large table, I was the centre of attention and we talked about football and politics … I have nothing to hide.”
Among the accusations levelled at Berlusconi are that women regularly dressed up as nuns and police officers to perform stripteases for him and his guests in 2010. It is also alleged that the women performed mock-lesbian shows, touched Berlusconi intimately and wore Barack Obama face masks.
Miss El-Mahroug was apparently a regular at the parties, but denied she had sex with Berlusconi during a tearful appearance on the steps of a Milan courthouse last month.
She also made an appearance in Sunday night’s documentary to reiterate her claim that she and Berlusconi had never had sex.