ROME (AP) — Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi savored his court victory in the infamous "bunga bunga" case Wednesday by plunging headfirst into politics, saying he's working for a better Italy even though he remains barred from public office.
Italy's highest court late Tuesday confirmed Berlusconi's acquittal on charges he paid an underage Moroccan prostitute for sex and then used his influence to cover it up.
The ruling closed an embarrassing chapter for the billionaire media mogul, exposing the raunchy parties at his Milan mansion, complete with showgirl strip-teases and wads of cash paid to guests in envelopes at the end of each party.
In a statement Wednesday, Berlusconi cheered the decision but expressed bitterness "for a case that did a lot of damage not just to me, my family and other innocent people, but to all Italians, our public life and the image of our country in the world."
He also praised the judges who cleared him as "courageous and independent" — an unusual nod given Berlusconi's frequent complaint that Italy's judiciary is politicized and full of communists.
The Court of Cassation decision gave the three-time premier a welcome boost for his party, Forza Italia, which has been lagging in the polls with about 14 percent of the vote ahead of regional elections in May.
"Now that this sad chapter has been archived, I'm back with Forza Italia and the center-right to build a better, more just and free Italy," Berlusconi said in a message to supporters.
Forza Italia has been hobbled by Berlusconi's legal woes, infighting and defections. The most damning blow came in 2013, when Berlusconi lost his Senate seat due to a tax fraud conviction. He is barred from running or holding office for at least six years, but can still remain active in his party.
Berlusconi last week completed his community service stint for the tax fraud conviction, but his legal problems are far from 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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