MILAN (Reuters) – Milan prosecutors on Wednesday requested former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi be jailed for six years for allegedly bribing witnesses in a 2013 underage prostitution case.
Berlusconi is accused of paying 24 people, mostly young guests at his evening parties, to lie in a previous trial where he was charged with paying for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer.
The scandal over those so-called Bunga Bunga parties contributed to Berlusconi’s downfall as prime minister in 2011, marking the end of his fourth government.
Berlusconi, leader of the centre-right Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party, was eventually acquitted in that case and he pleaded not guilty in the subsequent bribery trial.
Berlusconi’s lawyer Federico Cecconi said he was not surprised by the prosecutors’ jail request, and he was confident his client would be acquitted.
“We believe there is no crime,” he told reporters.
The prosecutors also sought sentences of between one and six years for 27 other defendants in the case.
These included the nightclub dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known in Italy by her stage name, Ruby the Heartstealer, who the prosecutors said should spend five years behind bars for allegedly accepting bribes.
Prosecutors said the court should confiscate 10.8 million euros ($11.53 million) from Berlusconi and 5 million euros from El Mahroug, representing alleged bribes, and also seize four houses in Milan that Berlusconi allegedly made available to those they say he paid to lie.
The trial, which began in 2017, will resume in June with the arguments for the defence. The verdict is expected no earlier than the end of September.
Berlusconi, founder of media company Mediaset, faces two other similar cases of alleged bribery in courts in Rome and Siena.
All three trials have been paused repeatedly due to the 85-year-old tycoon’s frequent health problems.
Berlusconi was originally found guilty of paying to have sex with El Mahroug, who at 17 was considered a minor by Italian law, 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.
Berlusconi’s career has been dogged by legal battles and he was temporarily banned from political office after a conviction for tax fraud in 2013. That ban has long expired.
($1 = 0.9365 euros)
(writing by Emilio Parodi, editing by Gavin Jones and Bill Berkrot)