Silvio Berlusconi Convicted of Having Sex With Underage Prostitute. But Will He Go to Jail?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Tony Gentile / REUTERS

Then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looks on during a news conference at Chigi Palace in Rome on Aug. 4, 2011

A lower court in Milan sentenced former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to seven years in jail for paying for sex with a minor and covering it up — but don’t expect the media tycoon to go to prison anytime soon.

After a trial that lasted more than two years, the 76-year-old billionaire was found guilty by a panel of three female judges, who also banned him from holding public office. But in Italy’s three-tier court system, Monday’s sentence will only come into effect if it is upheld by two other courts after a lengthy appeals process.

When the sentence was read out, a small group of protesters started celebrating in front of Milan’s tribunal, while politicians from Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom party immediately dismissed the sentence as the latest installment of what they have described as Berlusconi’s “persecution” at the hands of Italy’s leftist judiciary.

In his 20 years at the forefront of Italy’s politics, the four-time Prime Minister has been through this before. In May, a four-year conviction for tax fraud was confirmed by an appeals court, but this sentence too will have to be reviewed by Italy’s highest court. So far scandals and court cases haven’t been able to stop his career.

This time, the case revolved around the notorious “Ruby the Heartstealer,” a Moroccan nightclub dancer that attended “bunga bunga” sex parties in Berlusconi’s luxurious villa outside Milan. According to the conviction, the former Prime Minister paid for sex with her in 2010 when she was still a minor — something both she and Berlusconi denied but that according to prosecutors was confirmed by several witnesses and wiretaps. Over 30 young women — who each received several thousand dollars — attended Berlusconi’s parties, performing stripteases, burlesque dances and allegedly touching his “intimate parts,” according to witness statements compiled by prosecutors.

(LIST: Top 10 Worst Silvio Berlusconi Gaffes)

Moreover, Berlusconi was accused of abusing his office power when he secured her release from a Milan jail after she was arrested for theft. He told policemen that she was the niece of Egypt’s now deposed strongman Hosni Mubarak. According to the Italian press, the entrepreneur turned politician was hardly surprised by his conviction.

In fact, a guilty sentence by Milan’s tribunal plays into the narrative of judicial persecution he has been repeating ever since his court scandals began almost 20 years ago. “Berlusconi’s defense is that he has no confidence in Italy’s judges. And his voters share this mistrust,” says Giovanni Orsina, professor of history at LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome and author of a book on Berlusconi’s role in Italian politics. “This is just the latest chapter in a book we have already read,” he added, saying in the short term the conviction won’t change much for Berlusconi — or for Italy’s wider political landscape.

After elections in April failed to produce any clear winner, Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party signed up to an uneasy alliance with the center-left Democratic Party. The vote had demonstrated Berlusconi’s exceptional political resilience — as well as his capacity to create a strong personal connection with Italian voters, his roguish charm papering over the many scandals that have plagued his years in power. Today, even if he had to relinquish the premiership to the Democratic Party’s Enrico Letta, Berlusconi is a key power broker, able to set much of the government’s agenda since the votes of his party are key to the government’s survival.

In 2012, after his latest government was forced out for its inability to deal with Italy’s debt crisis, Berlusconi had apparently retired from public life. He spent several reclusive months away as his party collapsed over internal squabbles and enjoyed a vacation at the Kenyan resort of Flavio Briatore, a friend and debonair businessman.

But he unexpectedly came out of retirement to stage a dramatic political comeback in time for this year’s April polls as Italians fumed at the inefficacy of Mario Monti, the technocrat who succeeded Berlusconi. Through the sheer force of his own charisma and energy, Berlusconi managed to almost plug his party’s 20% gap behind the Democratic Party ahead of April’s vote.

Now, despite the guilty verdict, Letta’s tenuous centrist coalition government should remain intact. “Berlusconi is under siege, and he will definitely want more bang for his buck when it comes to the alliance [with the Democratic Party]. But he probably won’t want to pull the plug on the government just now,” says Orsina.

The former Prime Minister faces a long series of court cases in the coming months. On Thursday, Berlusconi will have to appear in front of a Naples tribunal for allegedly buying a Senator’s support ahead of the confidence vote that marked the end of the government of his rival Romano Prodi in 2008.

But the real crunch for him could come in autumn, when Italy’s higher court, the Corte di Cassazione, will rule on his conviction by Milan’s appeals court for tax fraud. If the sentence is confirmed, it would finally become effective, with Berlusconi losing his place in Parliament and the possibility of running for office for the next five years. Even in that case, though, Orsina says he wouldn’t go to jail. “He is over 70. He could be sent to house arrest or do some community service.”

MORE: Italy’s Compromise Government Faces Uncertain Future, Plays Into Berlusconi’s Hands

44 comments
sachi_bbsr
sachi_bbsr

Italians are crazy ... but how does it matter what happens in a tiny country with 40 million people?


arifnindito
arifnindito

@lycalya Italy masih agak fishy hukumnya ly. Apalagi ini Berlusconi; kakap. Tapi mudah"an sih beneran masuk penjara deh doi.

boyeAdeyinka
boyeAdeyinka

@TIME @TIMEWorld When money fails to answer all things, the rich also cry. Money truly is a root cause of all evils

earthtomars_25
earthtomars_25

@TIME @TIMEWorld my concern is rather why there are underage prostitutes to begin with and how that issue needs to be addressed.

Donhollar
Donhollar

@TIME No...am sure the left wing don't really care about wether he goes to jail or not...only if he can stay away from politics..

robster16a
robster16a

@DavidGrann @TIMEWorld you are being shot at and you still have time to tweet about Silvio Berlusconi?? Man that is dedication to the craft

anyaigo
anyaigo

@TIME . He is already in moral jail; next is the thing!

Rhurazz12
Rhurazz12

@TIME Not likely. If anything house arrest and a slap on the wrist..

OmgItsBettie
OmgItsBettie

@TIME No, we don't live in a world where people in positions of power ever have to face jail or other consequences for anything they do.

DavisEshelman
DavisEshelman

@TIME he will be dead before his 2 appeals run out in the italian system

JohnDoughertyJr
JohnDoughertyJr

It took me half an hour to find out exactly how old this "minor" was, the crime committed here was the court calling a 17 year old prostitute a minor. The "judges" are guilty of libel and should be disrobed and barred from ever holding the office again.

TomMengel
TomMengel

This is a perfect storm of a Italian cultural horse race between sex roles and high level corruption.  Italian power types like Berlusconi demean women and can't seem to keep their pants zipped around under age (or just barely of age) girls while the upper class has been "La Dolce Vita" while milking the lower classes dry for generations by avoiding to pay the lion's share of their taxes while the infrastructure is controlled by the mafia and slowly crumbles.  In either case the common Italian citizen knows who is gonna get screwed in the end, and it's not the mob bosses or rich types that have basically driven Italy's ship onto the economic rocks.  About time the average Italian grew some and start to throw some of the bigger than life A'holes out.

SteveRedmond
SteveRedmond

Italian politics is like watching soap opera 24/7. Never a dull moment. Loads of sex, infidelity and underage participants. Berscoloni is a master at remaining in power despite it all. He is the epitome of the Teflon GOPers here but far more exciting and interesting. We are looking forward to his next dalliance and the soaps that doubtless will accompany it. I'll raise a glass to the man who has turned Italian politics on its head.

conservativeNRA
conservativeNRA

Don't get me wrong, I despise Silvio Berlusconi.  He's depraved, dishonest, irresponsible, and I wouldn't vote for him for dogcatcher if I were an Italian voter.  But I grudgingly admit that I have to at least consider that he might be innocent.  Italian courts really suck.  After the ridiculous Amanda Knox trial/media circus and the time they convicted those geological survey scientists of criminal negligence and sentenced them to prison for failing to predict an earthquake, my opinion of the Italian justice system is pretty much nil.  Also, Italy is well known for not having impartial judges, so Berlusconi could be right about biased judges trying to enforce a political agenda.  Either way, let's pray justice prevails.

cindy243
cindy243

@JohnDoughertyJr The greater crime is the abuse of power, not the underaged/paid for sex.  I agree the judicial system in Italy is inconsistant, but in this case the Judge made a real statment by convicting Berlusconi to 7 years and not 6 years.  Any conviction greater than 6 years is no longer eligable for "house arrest" - although at his age he wouldn't get more than house arreest anyway.  Nonetheless, a 7 year conviction was to send a message that "abuse of power" is a serious offense and has a penalty.  The underage prostitution just makes for good media.

cindy243
cindy243

@TomMengel It is time for Italians to stand up, and they are via the 5 Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle) with the face and voice of Beppe Grillo (www.BeppeGrillo.it - it is available in English as well).  As much as I agree with the principals of the 5 Star Movement, I'm afraid to say, I think it will have to get "into the streets" in order to get these dog politicians to leave and go home for good.  What country re-appoints a President who is 88 years old?!?!  For a 7 year term?!?!  Only a country that is completely manipulated by aging Politicians (who think they are Rock Stars).  Just the other week, the new government recognized unemployment with the "kids" is at 38%!  Here's the kicker, at what age do they consider "kids"?  From age 35 down!  At 35 you have a family of your own, you're not a kid - that is the insanity of these old politicians who think 35 is a kid.