Berlusconi’s Fight to Avoid Detention Resumes in Sex-Case Appeal

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who avoided prison after a guilty verdict in a tax-fraud case last year, is back in court to defend his freedom against a more serious criminal conviction.

The appeal against the so-called Ruby verdict, in which Berlusconi was convicted of abuse of power and engaging a minor in prostitution and sentenced to seven years in jail, starts today in Milan. Berlusconi’s lawyers have argued he is innocent of paying Karima El Mahroug for sex in 2010 when she was 17 and later pressing police to release her from custody.

The stakes are rising for Berlusconi, 77, as leniency in sentencing, which helped him secure community service in the tax-fraud case, may be harder to come by if the Ruby verdict is upheld on appeal and by the Supreme Court in Rome. The charges carry a longer jail term than in the tax-evasion case, which was set at four years originally. Prostitution with a minor is also typically treated more severely.

“The sentence is so high that he wouldn’t be eligible for community service” if the conviction is rendered definitive, said Luca Luparia, a professor of criminal law at the University of Milan. “House arrest is a possibility.”

Guilty verdicts in Italy aren’t considered definitive until all appeals are exhausted. Berlusconi’s tax-fraud punishment was reduced to 12 months community service, which he is currently carrying out by spending at least four hours each week at a hospice center near Milan. This comes at a time when Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, the third-biggest force in parliament, are cooperating with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on constitutional and electoral-law changes.

Sex Conviction

The sex conviction was handed down a year ago. The abuse-of-power count stems from a phone call Berlusconi made, as prime minister in 2010, to a Milan police station after El Mahroug was arrested on theft charges, according to the court.

Berlusconi told a police officer that El Mahroug, a Moroccan who danced in nightclubs under the stage name Ruby Heart Stealer, was the niece of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to the trial court. He arranged to have the teenager released at 2 a.m. on May 28, 2010, into the custody of a political ally, the court said.

Berlusconi has denied all wrongdoing and says the criminal cases against him amount to political persecution.

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