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Berlusconi probed for allegedly corrupting witnesses

Ruby also under investigation along with other party-goers

23 January, 17:04
Berlusconi probed for allegedly corrupting witnesses

(By Paul Virgo)

(ANSA) - Rome, January 23 - Silvio Berlusconi and two of his lawyers, Niccolò Ghedini and Piero Longo, have been put under investigation over suspicions they corrupted witnesses during a trial related to allegations the ex-premier used an underage prostitute, Milan prosecutors said Thursday. Three-time premier Berlusconi is appealing against a seven-year prison sentence he was handed last year for paying for sex with Karima 'Ruby' El Mahroug and abusing his office to try to cover up the affair. El Mahroug is under investigation for allegedly taking brides to give favourable testimony for the ex-premier, prosecutors said. Many other women who denied in court that Berlusconi hosted sex parties at his home near Milan are among 45 people probed too.

Berlusconi vowed to keep fighting and stay in politics on Thursday after his multiple legal troubles worsened with the announcement of the new probe. "I'm here and I'm staying here," said the centre-right leader, who remains at the helm of his Forza Italia party despite being ejected from parliament last year after the supreme court upheld a separate tax-fraud conviction, making it definitive. "I feel the responsibility of the trust given to me and of the votes of the public. "I'm staying on the field, more convinced than ever that I have to fight till the end to see what I deeply believe in prevail" he said. The 77-year-old billionaire said this was his response to those who thought they had "gotten rid" of him. Berlusconi says he is the victim of a campaign of persecution by left-wing elements in the judiciary who are trying to wipe him from the political arena.

The tax-fraud conviction was the first definitive one Berlusconi received in two decades of legal battles.

The media magnate is also appealing a conviction for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap and has been indicted for allegedly bribing a Senator to change political sides too. "In Italy if you want a magistrate to show you are right, you have to wait years and years," Berlusconi added, referring to the country's snail-paced justice system. "Sometimes it's decades and more. And they have the courage to call this justice. "In Italy today we can easily say that the law is equally unjust for everyone".

Milan prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati said he was obliged to open an investigation after his office received documents relating to the convictions of three people found guilty of providing prostitutes for parties at Berlusconi's home. In the judges' explanation of that ruling, they said Berlusconi made regular payments to witnesses in the case and that this led to a "contamination of evidence" at the trial.

In July Emilio Fede, a well-known former anchorman with the Berlusconi-owned TG4 television station, Lele Mora, a former talent scout, and Nicole Minetti, the ex-premier's former dental hygienist and ex-Lombardy councilor, were convicted of organizing "bunga bunga" sex parties at Berlusconi's Arcore residence.

Fede and Mora were both given seven-year prison sentences and banned for life from public office while Minetti was sentenced to five years in prison and banned from office for as many years.

Berlusconi's supporters expressed outrage at Thursday's announcement.

"The Milan prosecutor's office never disappoints in knee-jerk reactions and rapidity when it comes to Silvio Berlusconi," said Renato Brunetta, Forza Italia's Lower House whip. "It is not clear if the coincidence with the precise moment in politics is merely casual," he added with reference to a controversial agreement Berlusconi struck at the weekend with the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) for a new election law and institutional reforms.

FI Senator Lucio Malan described the move by Milan prosecutors as "another act of Stalinist justice".

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