The trial is related to events that occurred in 2010, when then-Prime Minister Berlusconi phoned a Milan police station asking for information about a Moroccan woman, Karima El Mahroug —an underage nightclub dancer nicknamed “Ruby Heart-Stealer”—who had been detained for allegedly stealing cash. Ms. El Mahroug has denied the allegations. Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Berlusconi abused his power by pressing the police to release the woman. They also argued that Mr. Berlusconi sought to have her released to cover up an alleged payment he made to her for sex when she was 17. Mr. Berlusconi said he met the woman during dinner parties at his mansion and acknowledged phoning the police station, but denies having pressed police to free Ms. El Mahroug. Both he and Ms. El Mahroug deny having had sex with each other, and Mr. Berlusconi told a court that he didn’t know that Ms. El Mahroug was a minor.
Mr. Berlusconi has faced at least two dozen trials since entering politics in 1994. Yet his first—and only—final conviction came in August 2013, when he was sentenced to a four-year jail term for tax fraud. The sentence was reduced to one year of community service, which the former premier has just finished serving. Mr. Berlusconi was also banned from public office until 2016 and ousted from Italy’s Senate because of the tax fraud conviction. The tax fraud charge was related to Mediaset , Italy’s dominant private television broadcaster, which is controlled by Berlusconi’s family. A court found that the broadcaster bought U.S. film and television rights at inflated prices, allowing the company to fraudulently lower its tax bill. Mr. Berlusconi is also under investigation for alleged witness-tampering related to the trial on the sex and abuse-of-power charges. Prosecutors are investigating whether the media mogul, together with other people including two of his lawyers, sought to corrupt witnesses to give false testimony during the first phase of the trial, which led to the seven-year jail sentence. Mr. Berlusconi and his lawyers deny all charges.
After his tax conviction in August 2013, Mr. Berlusconi’s political leadership has been severely dented. In European elections of May 2014, his center-right party Forza Italia garnered just 17% of the vote.The party, weakened by deep internal divisions, is now polling around 13%. While Mr. Berlusconi’s political power is waning, his financial empire is also under heavy pressure. His family wealth has been halved from 2007 to 2013 according to Forbes, and Fininvest—the holding company his family controls—posted a net loss of €428.4 million in 2013, the latest data available. (excerpted from the Wall Street Journal for educational purposes; byline: Manuela Mesco)