An Italian appeals court Friday threw out the conviction of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on charges that he paid for sex with a minor and tried to use his influence to hush it up.
The decision by the court in Milan voided the seven-year prison sentence and lifetime ban from public office imposed on Berlusconi, 77, who had been found guilty by a lower court last year. The trial featured lurid details of the former premier’s raunchy “bunga bunga” parties at which young women were allegedly paid to perform stripteases and entertain the male guests.
Prosecutors can still appeal Friday’s verdict reversal to Italy’s high court, the Court of Cassation, the last stop in Italy’s judicial process.
Berlusconi, a media tycoon, had not yet begun serving his seven-year sentence. He is already performing community service at a home for the elderly because of a conviction on fraud charges in a separate case.
The flamboyant Berlusconi was ejected from the Italian Senate last year as a result of his legal woes. He no longer holds elected office but remains an influential figure on the political scene as the standard-bearer of Italy’s center-right.
During his tenure as prime minister, stories of Berlusconi’s colorful personal life and his penchant for awarding political posts to attractive young women often made more headlines than any of his government’s policies. Critics accused him of coarsening public life and bringing shame on Italy through his buffoonish behavior on the world stage – he liked to joke that President Obama was “tanned” – but many of his fellow Italians admired his business success and his ostentatious wealth.
Even some of his supporters were shocked, however, over allegations that Berlusconi paid to have sex in 2010 with a 17-year-old girl, a Moroccan dancer named Karima el Mahroug who billed herself as “Ruby the Heart-Stealer.” He was also accused of abuse of power by trying to use his influence to spring her from police custody after her arrest on suspicion of theft.
Berlusconi denied the charges, insisting that they were trumped up against him by his political enemies and by left-wing judges intent on bringing him down. But a Milan court convicted him in June 2013. His lawyer called the sentence “hallucinatory.”