A surprise acquittal for Mr. B.

BerlusconiassoltoWhat a surprise! Yesterday, a Milan appeals court overturned a lower court’s conviction of former premier and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and strong-arming court officials into releasing her when she subsequently was arrested for theft. The verdict by a three-judge panel thus cancelled the seven-year prison term and the life-time ban on holding political office that the lower court’s judges had decided on last year.

Berlusconi reacted to the sentence by saying “justice has been done” and, for the first time ever, speaking well of the Italian judiciary, which he has always considered his primary nemesis and has mercilessly criticized, calling them “communists” and persecuting him for political reasons.

The totally exculpatory sentence was a surprise to one and all, including the Milan prosecutors who tried the case and who will now have to decide whether to continue their accusations by sending the case to the third level of Italian justice, the Court of Cassation. They have said they will wait until the Appeals’ Court justices issue their “motivazioni” or judicial reasoning behind their decision.

The Appeals Court judges have three months to publish their “motivazioni” and in the meantime speculation about their reasoning is raging here. However, they clearly appear to have believed the defence when it said, first, that Berlusconi did not know that Karima El Mahroug, the Moroccan young woman otherwise known as Ruby Heart-Stealer, allegedly a participant in the so-called Bunga-Bunga parties, was only 17 when he had sex with her and that he genuinely believed Mahroug was related former Egyptian president Hosni, Mubarak when he attempted to keep her from being sent to a juvenile prison facilities after she was arrested for stealing from another prostitute did not involve any explicit threats to the officials involved.

“The verdict goes beyond our rosiest predictions,” said Franco Coppi, one of Berlusconi’s defence lawyers. In the several ongoing and previous criminal case, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a minority group of allegedly left-wing prosecutors and judges who he says are persecuting him for political reasons.

Berlusconi, 77, received the news Friday as he was leaving facility for sick, elderly people near Milan for his weekly session of community service in relation to a separate tax-fraud conviction. The media magnate is serving the year remaining on a four-year tax-fraud term by doing community service as Italian law does not contemplate jail-time, except for the most heinous crimes, for people over 70. (The other three years of his sentence were covered by general amnesties.) Berlusconi said he was moved by the court’s decision and said it confirmed his (supposed) belief that “the majority of judges are worthy of admiration”. In ongoing and previous criminal cases – he has been investigated and charged with at least ten infractions but the tax fraud case was his first conviction.

The former senator (he was forced to resign that post in the wake of the tax-fraud conviction) said yesterday that his acquittal in the Ruby trial meant he could continue leading his centre-right opposition Forza Italia party with greater “serenity”. However, in reality he cannot rest easy. Currently, he is facing trial in Naples on accusations of having bribed several senators for changing their vote on key parliamentary votes of confidence.

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