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Italy’s Berlusconi Faces Verdict In Bunga Bunga Bribe Case

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi speaks during the closing electoral campaign rally of the centre-right’s coalition in Piazza del Popolo, ahead of the September 25 general election, in Rome, Italy, September 22, 2022.

An Italian court will on Wednesday deliver its verdict on whether former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi paid witnesses to lie in an underage prostitution case that has cast a long shadow over his political career.

Prosecutors have demanded a six-year prison term for Berlusconi, accusing him of bribing 24 guests at his parties to provide false testimony in a previous trial where he was charged with paying for sex with a 17-year-old exotic dancer.

Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party is a key component of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s conservative coalition, has denied the allegations and says he is the victim of a years-long plot by magistrates to hound him from politics.

The scandal over the so-called Bunga Bunga parties contributed to Berlusconi’s downfall as prime minister in 2011, marking the end of his fourth government.

He was eventually acquitted in the initial case, with an appeals court ruling that while he had paid a teenager for sex, there was no proof he knew she was a minor. He was put in the dock again after being accused of bribing witnesses.

The case was split between three cities because of where the various witnesses lived. Courts in Siena and Rome have already acquitted Berlusconi, although prosecutors in Siena are appealing. The Milan case is the biggest and most high-profile.

Prosecutors in Italy’s financial capital last May requested prison time for the former prime minister as well as the confiscation of four houses and millions of euros.

They also sought sentences of between one and six years for 27 other defendants, including the exotic dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known by her stage name, Ruby the Heartstealer.

Berlusconi, 86, has acknowledged giving money to various of his guests, but said it was offered spontaneously as compensation for the reputational damage they had suffered by being associated with his infamous Bunga Bunga parties.

The Milan trial has been paused repeatedly due to the tycoon’s frequent health problems and even if he is convicted there is little chance he would have to go to jail due to a long appeals process and his advanced age.

Berlusconi’s career has been dogged by legal battles and he was temporarily banned from political office after a conviction for tax fraud in 2013. That ban has long expired and he returned to the Senate in 2022 national elections.

If he is convicted on Wednesday he would certainly appeal and would be able to remain in parliament until a definitive verdict is reached, minimising any fallout for the government.

(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by David Holmes)