Mercoledì, 19 Settembre 2018
MILAN

Berlusconi supporters protest sex-case verdict

English
© ANSA

(By Denis Greenan).
Milan, June 25 - Supporters of Silvio Berlusconi
staged a protest in Rome on Tuesday after judges found the
ex-premier guilty Monday for paying for sex with an underage
prostitute and abusing his office as then premier in an attempt
to cover it up.
"Rome, Piazza Farnese. Resist puritanical justice,"
read a front-page headline in the right-leaning Il Foglio daily,
which is edited by Giuliano Ferrara, a close friend of the
three-time premier.
"This is a shameful sentence that hurts Italian justice and
lowers it to the level of that in Afghanistan or Iran," he said.
In a closely watched verdict Monday, judges in Milan
sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison and banned him for
life from holding public office, rulings he will appeal.
"This is a violent sentence," said Berlusconi. "I will
resist the persecution. I was convinced I would be acquitted".
Berlusconi and Karima 'Ruby' El Mahroug, the underage
dancer he was found guilty of paying for sex in 2010, both
denied ever having sex.
Berlusconi's supporters Tuesday echoed his oft-made
allegations of a leftist judiciary out to get him and chided
Premier Enrico Letta of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD)
for not speaking out in support of the former premier and media
magnate, whose centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party
occupies important seats in the administration.
"(One would have expected) not only words of personal
solidarity with Berlusconi, a victim of unjust persecution," but
also a "political assessment" on the necessity to restore a
"correct balance" between the powers of government, said PdL
Coordinator Sandro Bondi.
Letta was set to meet Berlusconi Tuesday evening with the
verdict and its repercussions high on the agenda, political
sources said.
Reservations among PD left-wingers about the alliance with
Berlusconi have been heightened by the Ruby verdict.
Former PD chair Rosy Bindi posted a statement asking "how
long can a party with respect for the rule of law in its DNA
stay in coalition with a leader who has already piled up several
extremely grave verdicts, who demands impunity in the name of
his electoral legitimation and misses no opportunity to attack
the magistrature".
PdL MP Francesco Paolo Sisto, head of the House
Constitutional affairs committee, said the "tensions" aroused by
the sentence, "which are currently still outside the executive,
may eventually affect how long it lasts".
Many have worried that the fragile stability of the
unprecedented coalition, which makes strange bedfellows of
long-time foes who finished first and second in February's
inconclusive general election, was at risk over the legal
troubles of Berlusconi, who has threatened to withdraw
support over other issues.
Members of his party have vowed to resign from government
en masse if their leader's ban from office is upheld at the
supreme Court of Cassation.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano issued an appeal for
calm Tuesday and said he was irked by constant speculation the
government might fall.
Napolitano, who is also the titular head of the judiciary's
self-governing body, the CSM, called for greater respect of all
branches of the State.
"We must always respect and safeguard public institutions,
which are the bedrock of the life and development of a
democratic State and civil society worthy of the name," said
Napolitano.
"It's not possible to talk about a government crisis after
just two months (in office)," the president went on.
"I'd like to see a bit more continuity in government
institutions," he said, adding that "we in Italy hold the record
for political turmoil".
The Ruby verdict was at the court of first instance and it
will take years to reach a conclusion at the supreme Court of
Cassation.
But Milan prosecutors have already said they want to probe
Berlusconi's defence witnesses for suspected perjury.
The 32 witnesses who testified in his defence, who include a
junior minister, will "automatically" be placed under
investigation when Milan judges issue their explanation for the
verdict in September, judicial sources said Tuesday.
El Mahroug denied at a separate pimping trial that she
slept with Berlusconi. She did not testify at the Ruby trial and
is not on the prosecutors' 'perjury' list.
But it includes three PdL members - Deputy Foreign Minister
Bruno Archi, MP Valentino Valentini and MEP Licia Ronzulli.
Left-wing opponents of Berlusconi and of Letta's government
on Tuesday called for Archi to quit.
Carlo Rossella, chairman of the Medusa Film company - part
of the Mediaset media empire controlled by the Berlusconi family
- is also on the list.
Another likely suspect is Giorgia Iafrate, the police
officer who ignored a recommendation from a juvenile-court
official and released Ruby to Berlusconi's former dental
hygienist and then PdL Lombardy regional councillor Nicole
Minetti, who was accompanied by the Brazilian prostitute who
phoned Berlusconi in Paris to say Ruby was in trouble.
Berlusconi was convicted of abusing his office as premier
to get Ruby freed after she was detained on a 3,000-euro theft
claim made by a former friend.
He said he wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident because
Ruby was, as he mistakenly believed at the time, the niece of
former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Ruby, in statements taken down as evidence, has admitted to
posing as Mubarak's niece and said she told "a pack of lies".
Of the more than 30 young women who admitted taking part in
Berlusconi's parties, 18 took the stand and, prosecutors say,
allegedly perjured themselves.
The women, like Archi, Rossella and the others, supported
the former premier's claim that the gatherings were not 'bunga
bunga' sex parties but innocent, jolly affairs featuring
burlesque performances.
The Ruby case is not the most immediate of Berlusconi's
legal worries because he faces a final verdict over tax fraud at
Mediaset later this year.
An appeals court recently upheld a four-year term and a
five-year ban from office which, if confirmed, could see him
booted out of parliament.
But the PdL is already making overtures to PD members who
want an end to what the ex-premier calls a 20-year "war" against
him to come up with an immunity law similar to ones which have
been struck down in the past by the Constitutional Court.

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