ROME — An appeals court in Milan overturned on Friday the conviction of the former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, on charges of paying for sex with a minor, and revoked his seven-year prison sentence and a lifetime ban from holding public office.
Berlusconi, 77, was found guilty just over a year ago of paying for sex with a young woman named Karima el-Mahroug, nicknamed “Ruby Heart-Stealer,” when she was still a minor, and of abusing his office to cover it up.
He appealed the conviction, and the Milanese court ruled in his favor, dealing Berlusconi a legal victory that strengthens his waning position within the Italian political arena.
The former prime minister was not present in court Friday; he was in Cesano Boscone, about 7 miles outside Milan, at a nursing home where he is serving a year of community service assisting Alzheimer’s patients one day a week, a sentence he received in a separate conviction for tax fraud. Berlusconi left the care home without speaking to reporters, but he rolled down the window of his car to shake the hand of a supporter who yelled out: “Justice is done!”
On his Facebook page, Berlusconi wrote on Friday, “Only those who were close to me during these years know what I have suffered as a result of this unfair and ignominious accusation.”
Courtroom testimony had focused on the raunchy “bunga bunga” parties, involving many aspiring starlets, at the home of Berlusconi, a media mogul and the leader of the Forza Italia party.
Stating that he was “deeply moved,” Berlusconi also uncharacteristically thanked the Italian judiciary — an institution he has repeatedly attacked over the years as the perpetrators of unrelenting legal persecution. The ruling “gave a confirmation of what I have always said: that the vast majority of Italian magistrates do their job quietly, with admirable impartiality and rigor.”
Although the legal victory vindicated Berlusconi, it is unlikely to herald his return to power.
“I think Berlusconi is basically out of the political game,” said Sergio Fabbrini, director of the school of government at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome, citing the former prime minister’s age and the fact that he was serving community service and was standing trial in another court in Naples.
However the ruling fortifies Berlusconi’s position as the center-right’s principal interlocutor with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in negotiations to reform Italy’s Parliament.
The current unwieldy system has been cited as a main obstacle to enacting much-needed social and economic changes.