Defense denies erotic dinners at Berlusconi villa

MILAN (AP) — Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s defense denied Monday that there were any erotic escapades at dinners at the media mogul’s villa near Milan and accused the court of bias against the businessman-turned-politician.

Nicolo Ghedini said during closing arguments that Berlusconi neither paid for sex with an under-age teen, nor exerted pressure on police officials in an effort to cover it up, as charged. The sensational trial is in its final stage, with a verdict expected later this month.

Both Berlusconi and the woman, Karima el-Mahroug, who is now 20 and was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters, deny ever having had sex.

Ghedini said most prosecution witnesses who described scenes of sexual excess during the parties were not there between February 2010 and May 2010 when el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby, attended dinners at the villa. Defense witnesses described “normal” dinners during which participants chatted about soccer and denied any sexual encounters with the then-premier.

“We have 25 witnesses give more or less similar accounts of the evenings,” Ghedini said, adding that prosecutors could not argue that their witnesses were correct while those of the defense who denied having sex with the premier were not reliable.

Ghedini also said the judges hearing the case are “culturally similar” to prosecutors, whom he has accused of waging a politically motivated campaign against Berlusconi with the goal of removing him from politics.

“I had the impression during the course of this trial of having caused some annoyance to the judges,” Ghedini said.

Berlusconi’s defense has sought to move the sex trial and a tax fraud case to Brescia, another northern Italian city, arguing that Milan magistrates are biased against Berlusconi. Italy’s high court denied the request.

An appeals court last month upheld a tax fraud conviction against Berlusconi as well as the four-year sentence and five-year ban on public office. His team has said it will appeal the conviction to Italy’s highest court.

Neither Berlusconi nor el-Mahroug have testified at the prostitution trial, but Ghedini asked the court to enter as evidence the testimony that she gave in a separate trial of three former Berlusconi aides accused of procuring prostitutes for the now infamous “bunga banga” parties at Berlusconi’s villa.

In sworn testimony, el-Mahroug denied sex with Berlusconi or of witnessing sexually charged scenes. She did say she received envelopes with several thousand euros as gifts every time she attended a party plus an additional 30,000 euros ($39,000) to open a beauty salon.

She denied receiving any more, although prosecutors said she received 4.5 million based on a handwritten note and phone calls where money exchanges were discussed. But Ghedini dismissed any statements by el-Mahroug, saying she was known to have lied about her name and her age and that Berlusconi’s accountant had said no such sum was given to her.

Ghedini said Berlusconi was “convinced” that el-Mahroug was related to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Berlusconi would never have discussed the young woman at a lunch with Mubarak in May 2010 if he had known she “was a minor, a Moroccan who lived in Sicily in a state of poverty and whose father was a street vendor,” Ghedini said.

Prosecutors allege Berlusconi later said she was related to Mubarak only to get her released from police custody after she was accused of stealing from a roommate. Ghedini said Berlusconi telephoned an official only for information and not to seek special treatment.

Prosecutors are seeking a six-year sentence and lifetime ban from public office, a sentence Ghedini called “stratospheric and extraordinary.”

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