Silvio Berlusconi sex conviction overturned

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Berlusconi has faced a string of court cases in recent years

Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has won an appeal against his conviction for paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

His seven-year prison sentence has now been thrown out by judges in Milan, in the so-called "Ruby" case.

Last year a court found that he had paid for sex with a 17-year-old nightclub dancer, Karima El-Mahroug, known as "Ruby the Heartstealer".

Berlusconi is doing community service after being sentenced for tax fraud.

That was a separate case involving his business empire Mediaset. Berlusconi, 77, helps out once a week at a home for people with Alzheimer's disease.

He began doing that service in May - and so far it is the only final judgment against him, despite various other court cases.

'Bunga-bunga' reports

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Karima El-Mahroug is nicknamed "Ruby" in the Italian media

In the Ruby case both Berlusconi and Ms El-Mahroug denied having had sex.

During the trial reports emerged of raunchy "bunga-bunga" parties at his private villa attended by showgirls. Some of the female guests however described them as "elegant dinner parties".

Berlusconi, a billionaire tycoon and veteran politician, was also acquitted of a charge that he abused his prime ministerial powers by pressuring the police to free Ms El-Mahroug when she was in custody.

In another separate case he is accused of having bribed a senator.

As a result of the conviction over Mediaset he was banned from holding political office for two years and expelled from the Senate.

Reacting to Friday's verdict in Milan, Berlusconi's lawyer said it "goes beyond our rosiest expectations".

Political repercussions

Berlusconi was in power three times as prime minister, dominating Italian politics. He still heads the right-wing Forza Italia party.

The acquittal may enable him to remain a strong influence in politics and may also help centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, observers say, as Forza Italia may be less inclined to block the government's reforms.

"This ruling will bring people together. We will be calmer working in future and be more united between ourselves and with all of the centre-right," said Lucio Malan, a Forza Italia senator, quoted by AFP news agency.

Prosecutors can still challenge the acquittal at the highest criminal court, the Court of Cassation, the Associated Press reports.

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