ROME (AP) — Italy's highest court upheld Silvio Berlusconi's acquittal in his infamous "bunga bunga" case Tuesday, giving the former premier a welcome legal victory as he tries to rally his Forza Italia party ahead of regional elections in May.
The Court of Cassation rejected prosecutors' appeal and confirmed Berlusconi's acquittal on charges he paid for sex with an underage prostitute during raunchy, sex-fueled "bunga bunga" parties at his Milan villa, and used his influence to cover it up.
A lower court had convicted the three-time former premier of both charges, and sentenced him to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from holding public office. But an appeals court reversed the verdict last year — a decision that was confirmed by the Cassation Tuesday.
The high court, which deliberated for more than nine hours before releasing its decision just before midnight, will issue its written ruling detailing its reasoning within 90 days.
"It's a great success," said defense attorney Michaela Andresano. "The court accepted our arguments and rejected the prosecutors' appeal."
Prosecutors had alleged that Berlusconi paid Karima el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby, for sex while she was a minor and then intervened with police in 2010 to have her released when she was picked up on suspicion of theft.
Both Berlusconi and el-Mahroug, who was 17 at the time, denied ever having had sex. Berlusconi has long maintained his legal woes were the result of left-leaning magistrates.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Eduardo Scardaccione had argued there was no way Berlusconi didn't know el-Mahroug's age. He charged that a police official "couldn't resist the pressure" to release the girl after Berlusconi called him at home near midnight after she had been detained.
Lead defense attorney Franco Coppi argued there was no proof Berlusconi knew el-Mahroug's age and that Berlusconi's call to the police official contained no threats, "explicit or implicit."
Berlusconi last week completed his community service stint for a tax fraud conviction that also cost him his seat in parliament. Despite Tuesday's high court victory, Berlusconi's legal woes aren't over: Milan prosecutors are also investigating him for allegedly paying off witnesses in the "bunga-bunga" case, and he's still on trial in Naples for alleged political corruption.
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