Silvio Berlusconi Sex Trial: Prosecutors Request Six Years in Jail, Ban From Politics

Silvio Berlusconi Shame - H 2013
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The billionaire media tycoon is on trial for paying an underage girl for sex and abuse of power. His lawyer says the harsh sentence "defies precedent."

ROME -- Prosecutors in Milan have asked for a six-year jail term and a lifetime ban from politics in the sex trial of Italy's controversial former prime minister and billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.

The verdict is not expected before June 24, but the sanctions requested by prosecutors are in themselves noteworthy for being more severe than many predicted.

The 76-year-old Berlusconi is charged with paying then-underage erotic dancer Karima el-Mahroug for sex, and then abusing his power as prime minister to help get her off on a minor theft charge: he allegedly told police they should let the Moroccan-born el-Mahroug off in order to avoid a diplomatic incident, saying she was the niece of then-Egyptian president Hasni Mubarak.

Chief prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, in closing arguments that lasted more than six hours, argued that the abuse of power charges were far more serious, asking for just a year in jail for paying a minor for sex, but five years and the ban from politics for the alleged abuse of power.

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El-Mahrough, best known by her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer," has strongly denied having sex with Berlusconi or working as a prostitute. She staged a protest outside the Milan courthouse last month, demanding she be allowed to testify in the trial and clear her name. Judges didn't allow that, and in her closing argument, Boccassini claimed proof el-Mahrough received as much as €4.5 million ($5.9 million) from Berlusconi in return for not testifying against him.

Berlusconi's lawyers immediately criticized the prosecutors' request, reiterating Berlusconi's innocence and saying that even if they were true, the sentences were too harsh. "It defies precedent," said attorney Nicolo Ghedini.

Even if judges convict Berlusconi on all charges, it is far from certain he will serve time in jail on the charges. Berlusconi has proved adept at avoiding jail time in the past, despite two decades of legal problems: previous convictions of four years for tax evasion in connection with his Mediaset cinema and television empire and another year in a wire tap case -- both in the last seven months -- are under appeal.

Berlusconi is Europe's richest media baron. Mediaset, the company he started, controls three national television networks in Italy and one in Spain, plus a major film production and distribution company, the country's largest ad buyer and several print media.

Twitter: @EricJLyman