Berlusconi risks fresh trial for bribing witnesses

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.

Berlusconi risks fresh trial for bribing witnesses
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

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.

"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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Here’s the first glimpse of the Italian Silvio Berlusconi film

The trailer is finally here for Paolo Sorrentino's biopic of Silvio Berlusconi, a man who the director called "an archetype of Italianness".

Here's the first glimpse of the Italian Silvio Berlusconi film
A scene from Paolo Sorrentino's film about Silvio Berlusconi, Loro. Image: Universal Pictures International Italy/YouTube

Filmed in Rome and Tuscany last summer, the hotly anticipated Italian-language feature – titled Loro or “Them” – does not yet have an official release date, but is expected to premier at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Sorrentino, best known internationally for his Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) and the TV series The Young Pope, has said he wanted to profile Italy's most infamous living politician because “he is an archetype of Italianness and through him, you can describe Italians”.

To judge by the trailer released on Monday, the film will focus at least as much on Berlusconi's personal life as his long career in media and politics. 

“I was interested in the man that’s behind the politics, but I am not so interested in the political stuff,” Sorrentino told the BBC last year, explaining that he would also tell the story of those around the businessman-turned-politician who tried to use his position to “change the course of their own life”. 

The teaser features multiple women, many of them scantily clad, but only a passing glimpse of Berlusconi, played by Toni Servillo. 

Paolo Sorrentino (L) and Toni Servillo with the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for La Grande Bellezza. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

The Neapolitan actor – who starred in La Grande Bellezza as well as Il Divo, Sorrentino's musical biopic of another former premier, Giulio Andreotti – has already impressed the Italian media with what La Repubblica called his “metamorphosis”. Photos from the set showed Servillo sporting Berlusconi's trademark tan and distinctive hairline; now he's winning praise for his spot-on impression of the four-time prime minister's voice.

We've only heard him say one line so far. Loro's trailer opens with a man's voice asking, “What did you expect: to be the richest man in the country, become prime minister and be madly loved by everyone too?” 

As Berlusconi, Servillo replies: “Yes, that's exactly what I expected.”

It's not clear if the real Berlusconi has seen the film. While he originally offered to allow Sorrentino to shoot inside his private villas, by October last year he said he had heard unwelcome rumours that the film might be a “political aggression towards me”.   

According to La Repubblica, Sorrentino did get the chance to meet Berlusconi's second ex-wife, Veronica Lario, with whom the politician is engaged in a long-running legal battle over alimony. Played by Elena Sofia Ricci, Lario also features in the trailer, looking mournful on a trampoline.

Berlusconi's pet poodle Dudù also makes an appearance. 

The teaser comes just a week after Berlusconi's greatest political defeat to date: his Forza Italia party won just 14 percent of the vote in Italy's general election, making it second within the centre-right bloc to the populist League. Should the group manage to form a government, the League – not Berlusconi – now gets to decide who will be prime minister.

Little has been seen or heard from Berlusconi publicly since the results came in. Many expect it to be the last time that the 81-year-old leads his party into an election, despite his supposed political immortality.

“The world has an idea of Berlusconi [as] a very simple person,” Sorrentino told the BBC. “But… I understood that he is more and more complicated than this. I would love to try to describe this complex character.”