An Italian court on Wednesday acquitted former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi over allegations of bribing witnesses in an underage prostitution case.

Berlusconi was accused of paying 24 people, mostly young guests at his so-called Bunga Bunga parties, to provide false testimony in a previous trial where he was charged with paying for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer.

Berlusconi has been at the centre of an endless series of investigations and trials since he entered politics in 1994 as leader of the Forza Italia party. However, the 86-year-old has just one definitive conviction against his name.

There have been 35 criminal court cases involving him. This figure refers to separate court cases and not to individual trials at each step of the judicial process.

Under Italian law, a defendant, if convicted, has the right to appeal first to the appeals court, and then to the country’s top court, the Court of Cassation.

A sentence becomes enforceable, therefore, only once the appeals process has been exhausted. That takes several years and some alleged crimes are wiped due to the statute of limitations.

“RUBY” CASES

Three separate trials on the alleged bribery of witnesses originated from the original trial in which Berlusconi was accused of abuse of office and paying for sex with a minor, a night club dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known in Italy by her stage name, Ruby the Heartstealer.

Berlusconi was initially found guilty in 2013 and sentenced to seven years in jail. The verdict was overturned in 2014 by an appeals court which ruled there was no proof he had known her age. Italy’s top court confirmed and made final his acquittal in 2015.

Berlusconi was put in the dock again in Rome, Siena and Milan after being accused of paying witnesses. He has been cleared in each jurisdiction.

A SINGLE DEFINITIVE CONVICTION

The only Berlusconi trial that ended with a final conviction was one for tax fraud, false accounting and embezzlement. In 2013, the top Italian court confirmed Berlusconi’s sentence of four years’ imprisonment, three of which were covered by a pardon.

Given his age, the former prime minister was able to complete his sentence as community service from 2014 to 2015 and was also banned from political office until 2018.

ACQUITTALS

A total of 10 cases ended with an acquittal. Three of them, including the All Iberian party funding trial were declared “because the alleged fact no longer represents a crime”.

The other seven resulted in acquittals “because the allegations did not prove to be founded”, including trials for alleged bribes to the tax police and the original “Ruby” case.

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS AND AMNESTY

A further 10 trials against Berlusconi concluded with a decision not to pursue the case to a verdict.

Eight of them were time-barred due to the statute of limitations. The last two, one alleging false accounting and one alleging false testimony, were covered by an intervening amnesty.

DROPPED CASES

Another 10 proceedings ended with a preliminary investigation judge deciding to drop the case without going to trial.

CASE PENDING

A trial in which Berlusconi is accused of “inducing people to lie” is still pending in the court in the city of Bari.

He is accused of having paid a businessman to lie to magistrates investigating young women allegedly brought to his residence in Rome between 2008 and 2009, when he was prime minister. Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing.

A ruling is not expected before the end of April.


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