Courts in seven cities across Italy will join forces to try billionaire Silvio Berlusconi and the young women he is accused of bribing to lie under oath, a judge in Milan has ruled.
Prosecutors accuse the former premier, 79, of perverting the course of justice by allegedly paying dancers and society girls some ten million euros for their silence over what went on at his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties.
He is suspected of showering them with cash gifts and presents to buy their testimony in the run-up to and during his trial for paying for sex with dancer Karima El-Mahroug, better known as Ruby the heart stealer, when she was under 18.
The media magnate was cleared of that charge last year but prosecutors are pressing ahead with a new corruption trial involving Berlusconi and 30 other people connected to the “exotic dinners” he held at his various lavish properties.
Preliminary hearing judge Anna Laura Marchiondelli split the trial between seven courts: Milan will deal with the majority of the accused, while courts in Monza, Pescara, Rome, Siena, Treviso and Turin will focus on single cases.
Marchiondelli’s ruling said each charge must be dealt with in the cities where the alleged corruption first took place.
In the Bunga Bunga trial, Ruby testified she had not had sex with the tycoon, claiming she had lied on a wiretap in which she was heard telling friends she had.
The subsequent probe established that he gave her gifts worth seven million euros ($7.8 million) in the form of cash and presents including cars as well as accommodation and the covering of medical bills.
Other witnesses allegedly received a further three million euros worth of enticements to keep quiet, including girls who were plied with gifts, put up in apartments and had their rent paid for as well as receiving a living allowance.
Pescara has been sent the file on ex-weather girl Miriam Loddo. Monza has that of Aris Espinoa, who said Berlusconi nicknamed her his “naughty girl”, and Elisa Toti, whose mother was caught in a phone tap asking how much money the magnate had given her.
Treviso will deal with the case of Giovanna Rigato – allegedly bribed with television presenter gigs – and Turin that of Miss Italy finalist Roberta Bonosia. Siena and Rome pick up the case against two musicians, Mariano Apicella and Danilo Mariani.
The relevant charge for Berlusconi will also be passed to each of the courts, prompting the magnate’s lawyer Franco Coppi to joke that his firm would have to “hire new lawyers” to ease the workload, admitting “I’m a bit old to travel all around Italy.”
Apicella and Mariani, a singer and pianist who serenaded soirees which reportedly ended with hot-tub orgies, were called to testify that the evenings were nothing more than civilised dinners.
Berlusconi is accused of buying an apartment from Apicella and a villa from Mariani – not, as he has claimed, to help old friends with cash flows, but to buy their silence, prosecutors say.
The former premier is an old hat at legal cases. He was convicted in 2014 of major corporate tax fraud but was allowed to serve a community service order helping old people rather than go to jail.
He suffered a fresh legal blow last July when a Naples court sentenced him to three years for bribing a senator, but he escaped doing time because of legal technicalities.