Berlusconi accused of bribing witnesses in prostitution trial

Reuters
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looks on during a speech from the stage in downtown Rome
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Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looks on during a speech from the stage in downtown Rome November …

By Emilio Parodi

MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian court accused former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on Friday of bribing witnesses to give false testimony in a trial linked to the case in which he has been convicted for paying for sex with a minor.

The accusation, two days after Berlusconi was stripped of his seat in parliament for tax fraud, came in a written judgment in the trial of three associates of the billionaire media tycoon who are charged with procuring prostitutes for parties at his home near Milan.

The court said the evidence against Berlusconi and the others implicated had been sent to prosecutors who are expected to open a new investigation into the case, the court documents showed.

His lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, who were also accused of inducing false testimony in the case, issued a statement saying the accusations were "totally disconnected from reality and from the facts". They said they were confident the investigation by prosecutors would be dropped.

The written judgment said there was evidence Berlusconi had paid "money and other benefits" to young women who had taken part in the parties to give misleading evidence in the case, one of a number of scandals which overshadowed the end of his last government in 2011.

It said the regular monthly payments of at least 2,500 euros ($3,400) to witnesses in trials in which Berlusconi was implicated "is not an anomaly but an illegal action".

Berlusconi was convicted in June of paying for sex with former nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, better known by the stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", when she was under 18.

The 77-year-old leader was also found guilty of abusing his powers as prime minister to get her released from police custody over a separate case.

Berlusconi, who this week was expelled from parliament over a tax fraud conviction, denies wrongdoing in all the cases against him. He has appealed against the verdicts in the Ruby case, which would not become effective until the whole appeals process is exhausted.

El Mahroug, who along with dozens of others is also suspected of giving false testimony, has denied having sex with Berlusconi.

In a separate but parallel trial, three associates - showbusiness agent Lele Mora, Emilio Fede, a former newsreader at one of Berlusconi's television stations, and Nicole Minetti, a former dental hygienist - were found guilty of procuring young women for prostitution.

(Reporting by Emilio Parodi; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Gareth Jones)

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