Berlusconi's Lawyers: Billionaire Tycoon 'Humane' to Have Helped Erotic Dancer
ROME – Lawyers for Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi said Monday that the billionaire media kingpin and sometime prime minister should be acquitted on charges of abuse of power and paying a minor for sex, saying the accusations against him are politically motivated.
Lead attorney Niccolo Ghedini, speaking in closing arguments in the two-year-old trial, said the 76-year-old Berlusconi “committed no crime” and that his generosity in giving thousands of euros -- millions, according to prosecutors -- to then-17-year-old Karima el-Mahroug, an erotic dancer, showed the tycoon was being “humane” toward a young girl with financial troubles.
Both Berlusconi and el-Mahroug (best known known by her stage name, “Ruby the Heartstealer”) deny having had sexual relations, and they claim Berlusconi’s gifts were limited to a few thousand euros each time she came to one of Berlusconi’s parties and a loan of €30,000 ($38,700) to open a beauty salon.
Lawyers also brushed aside charges that Berlusconi lied to police in claiming el-Mahroug was related to then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in order to get her off on a minor theft charge. Lawyers said Berlusconi "was convinced" the two were related.
The three-time prime minister’s attorneys also accused the justice system of being systematically “prejudiced” against Berlusconi, saying they were making decisions based on personal feelings rather than the facts.
Earlier, prosecutors argued Berlusconi knew el-Mahroug was underage, that he had given her as much as €4.5 million ($5.9 million), and that he illegally exerted his influence as prime minister by fabricating el-Mahroug’s connection to Mubarak. Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Berlusconi to six years behind bars and to issue a lifetime ban from politics, a sentence Ghedini called “stratospheric and extraordinary.” The verdict is expected June 24.
In addition to this case, Berlusconi’s lawyers are also appealing two other verdicts: a four-year jail term on charges in connection to tax evasion in content acquisitions for the Mediaset television and cinema giant he owns, and a further year in a wiretap case with a newspaper he controls.
Berlusconi has lately been splitting time between his legal issues and his role in the five-week-old Italian government headed by Enrico Letta. Through his allies in the parliament, Berlusconi is a key backer of the government, but there is speculation that he could pull his support in order to force new elections in which he would stand as a candidate to become prime minister for the fourth time.
Berlusconi stepped down from his last term as prime minister in November 2011 amid mounting legal woes and fears Italy could fall victim to the European debt crisis. Upon his resignation, he vowed to devote more time to his Mediaset empire. That plan has not panned out, but the company has been doing just fine in his absence: Shares closed trading Monday at €2.43 ($3.13), down slightly for the day but more than double their all-time low of €1.16 ($1.50), set in December.