MILAN (Reuters) – There is no evidence that Silvio Berlusconi bribed witnesses in the infamous ‘bunga bunga’ sex trial, one of his defence lawyers said on Monday, calling for the former Italian prime minister to be acquitted in a new trial linked to the case.
An appeal court cleared Berlusconi in 2014 of soliciting sex from a minor and abuse of power. But the billionaire conservative politician was put in the dock again after being accused of paying witnesses to help clear him.
“There is no evidence, not even indirectly, of a bribery agreement” between Berlusconi and the women who testified for him, lawyer Federico Cecconi told judges in Milan.
The ex-premier should be acquitted “because there is no case to answer”, Cecconi added.
Cecconi did not deny that Berlusconi gave money to the women, but said it was offered spontaneously as compensation for the reputational damage they suffered by being associated with a case related to prostitution.
In May, prosecutors sought a six-year jail term for Berlusconi, and sentences of between one and sixyears for 27 other defendants in the case, including Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug.
A verdict is expected later this year or in early 2023.
Berlusconi, who is 86, has just returned to the Italian parliament following last month’s national election victory by a right-wing bloc led by Giorgia Meloni and including his own Forza Italia party.
The original ‘bunga bunga’ trial hinged on accusations that Berlusconi paid for sex with El Mahroug, better known in Italy by her stage name, Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was 17. She is now 29.
The sex allegedly took place during nighttime parties’ at the then-prime minister’s villa. Other women who attended the parties and were called to the witness box in the first ‘bunga bunga’ trial are now co-defendants.
Berlusconi denies all wrongdoing in the case, and maintained that the parties at his plush residence near Milan were nothing more than elegant dinner parties.
The scandal over the entire affair contributed to the downfall of the last Berlusconi-led government, in 2011. On appeal, the ex-premier was cleared after judges ruled there was no proof he knew that El Mahroug was a minor.
Four-time prime minister Berlusconi, founder of media company Mediaset and leader of the conservative Forza Italia party, has been dogged by corruption allegations throughout his career – accusations he has dismissed.
(Reporting by Alfredo Faieta, writing by Alvise Armellini, editing by Andrew Heavens)