Berlusconi risks fresh trial for bribing witnesses

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Silvio Berlusconi was found guilty of paying for sex with Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, a then 17-year-old exotic dancer named "Ruby the Heart Stealer". Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP
17:08 CET+01:00
Italy's embattled Silvio Berlusconi, ousted from parliament and stripped of legal protection this week, risks arrest and a fresh trial after a court on Friday accused him of corrupting witnesses in a sex case.

Judges in a Milan court said Berlusconi "gave, and still gives, money" to call girls to provide false testimony in his favour, one of whom included the then-underage dancer nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer".

The girls "received money and other benefits" from Berlusconi and his lawyers "both before and after providing false testimony", the court said.

The accusations against the billionaire are likely to be enough to warrant a new trial against him - and for the first time in his political life, the former senator risks ending up in handcuffs.

A conviction for tax fraud earlier this year saw Berlusconi stripped of his seat on Wednesday - and of his parliamentary protection from the law.

The latest accusations revolve around monthly sums paid to girls, who testified that Berlusconi's parties were no more than innocent dinners.

The 77-year-old has admitted to paying the girls €2,500 a month for the past three years - allegedly to compensate them for being caught up in a trial against him which has damaged their reputations.

The payments "by the accused, to people who were to testify in a trial against him... is not an anomaly but an illegal act, an alteration of the evidence," the court document said.

Among the young girls recruited for the erotic parties was Ruby, a then 17-year-old Moroccan-born exotic dancer whose real name is Karima El-Mahroug.

Berlusconi was sentenced in a previous trial to seven years in jail for paying for sex with Ruby and abusing his prime ministerial powers to favour her.

Showbusiness agent Lele Mora and television host Emilio Fede were also sentenced to seven years each for procuring Ruby and other call girls, while former dental hygienist Nicole Minetti was given five years.

All three, like Berlusconi, have denied the charges and are not behind bars as they are appealing the verdicts.

Berlusconi was dragged even further into the mire on Friday by the appeal for help by one of his former lovers, who said she had been threatened after claiming the media magnate's current girlfriend Francesca Pascale is a lesbian.

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"These have been very difficult days for me. I have had to think about my personal safety... there were attempts to intimidate me," said Michelle Bonev, a glamorous Bulgarian actress who says she has had sex with the former premier to secure film roles.

In October, Bonev had said she herself had been intimate with Pascale, a former shop assistant from Naples, and described her relationship with the ageing baron as a sham.

"After my comments on Berlusconi and Pascale I have been living in a state of constant tension, I am monitored. I have to have people protecting me night and day," she said in a video plea released on You Tube, adding: "Do not leave me alone. I need your help."

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