15 February 2023

Berlusconi acquitted in trial tied to ‘bunga bunga’ parties

15 February 2023

Italian former premier Silvio Berlusconi has been found not guilty of witness tampering in a trial related to the sexually charged “bunga bunga” parties at his villa near Milan while he was in office.

The six-year-old trial is the third and likely final case in a scandal that made headlines around the world in 2010 when Mr Berlusconi as a sitting premier faced charges – of which he was eventually acquitted – of having paid for sex with an under-age teenager.

Mr Berlusconi faced charges in the third trial of paying off witnesses to lie in earlier trials, with prosecutors seeking six years in prison along with 10 million euros (£8.9 million) in damages.

Another 28 people charged, including the woman at the centre of the scandal, Karima el-Mahroug, were also all found not guilty on Wednesday.

“I am very happy,” Ms el-Mahroug, now 30, told reporters after hearing the verdict.

“I just need a moment to assimilate this fact, to believe it.”

Mr Berlusconi was not present as the verdict was read.

His lawyer, Federico Cecconi, called the verdict, which formally found no crime had been committed, “the fullest acquittal we could achieve”.

The earlier trials took place as Mr Berlusconi still wielded considerable power as premier, raising concern among security officials that he had left himself vulnerable to extortion by hosting young women at his villa.

The 86-year-old three-time former premier is currently head of the third party in Italy’s right-wing governing coalition, whose popularity polls show has shrunk significantly from its heyday to some 6%.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni welcomed Wednesday’s verdict, saying it “puts an end to a long judicial affair that had important repercussions on Italian political and institutional life”.

Ms Meloni’s administration this week took the step of removing the government as an injured party in the case, to avoid creating an awkward political dynamic in the case of guilty verdicts.

Mr Berlusconi’s defence described the dinner parties, dating from 2010, as elegant soirees; prosecutors said they were sex-fuelled gatherings that women were paid to attend and where witnesses described showgirls stripping provocatively for the then-Italian leader.

Both Mr Berlusconi and Ms el-Mahroug, who was 17 at the time, denied ever having sex with each other, and Ms el-Mahroug says she never worked as a prostitute.

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