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CRIME

‘Bunga bunga’ bribes trial on hold, Berlusconi ruling nears

Silvio Berlusconi will learn by the end of this month if he is to stand trial for allegedly buying the silence of call girls and others who attended his infamous "bunga bunga" sex parties.

'Bunga bunga' bribes trial on hold, Berlusconi ruling nears
Berlusconi speaking last month. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

The expected timing of a keenly awaited ruling emerged on Wednesday as the trial of 23 people accused of conspiring to protect the 80-year-old former prime minister was opened and immediately adjourned until July 3rd for procedural reasons.

Among those accused of perjury, accepting bribes and other offences is Karima El-Mahroug, an exotic dancer known as Ruby the heart stealer who was allegedly showered with gifts worth seven million euros ($7.4 million) by Berlusconi.

READ ALSO: Berlusconi at 80: I have regrets

The billionaire tycoon was cleared in 2015 of having paid for sex with Ruby when she was 17.

A judge at Italy's highest appeal court quashed an earlier conviction on the grounds that Berlusconi could not have known Ruby was under 18 and that he was therefore committing a crime.

Frustrated prosecutors emerged from that trial determined to prove that many witnesses had lied under oath in return for lavish gifts in the form of cash, jewellery, holidays and even properties.

Ruby testified that she had not sex with Berlusconi, claiming she was lying when she was recorded on a wiretap telling friends the contrary.

Proceedings against Berlusconi are lagging behind those for the rest of the accused because of his need for medical treatment following open-heart surgery in June.

The media magnate has beaten numerous criminal charges over the years with his only definitive conviction to date being one for corporate tax fraud, which led to him being kicked out of parliament.

He remains the leader of his Forza Italia party but, with its fortunes on the decline, Berlusconi's political influence has also waned.

Even if convicted, there is little chance of him ending up behind bars because of Italy's restrictions on penal sanctions against the elderly.

READ ALSO: How Silvio Berlusconi fascinated and appalled

CRIME

Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

Italy commemorated the death of Italian judge Giovanni Falcone on Monday, thirty years after the brutal Capaci bombing.

Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

The entire country paid tribute on Monday to anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, killed by the Sicilian mafia 30 years ago in a car bomb murder that shocked the country.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese laid a wreath at the memorial at the site of the blast at Capaci, near Palermo, that killed Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort on May 23rd 1992.

Another ceremony in Palermo was attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whose brother Piersanti, then Sicily’s regional president, was also murdered by the mafia.

In a statement, Prime Minister Mario Draghi hailed the legacy of Falcone, saying that thanks to his “courage, professionalism and determination, Italy has become a freer and fairer country”.

He said Falcone and his colleagues – one of whom, Paolo Borsellino, was killed by Cosa Nostra two months later – “dealt decisive blows against the mafia”.

“Their heroism had rooted anti-mafia values in society, in new generations, in republican institutions,” he added, saying the “relentless fight against organised crime and […] the search for truth” must continue.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogramme (1100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend. At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

READ ALSO: How murdered judge Giovanni Falcone shaped Italy’s fight against the mafia

On July 19th, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Falcone posed a real threat to Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by The Godfather trilogy, and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

He and Borsellino were later credited with revolutionising the understanding of the mafia, working closely with the first informants and compiling evidence for a groundbreaking ‘maxi-trial’ in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

“Thanks to Falcone and Borsellino, the Sicilian mafia became a notorious fact, not something that had to be proved to exist at every trial,” anti-mafia prosecutor Marzia Sabella told AFP.

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