By Marzia De Giuli
MILAN, Italy, July 18 (Xinhua) -- Over the last 20 years, Silvio Berlusconi has got Italians used to his political centrality, and so it was on Friday when a Milan court overturned a seven-year prison term against the three-time premier in the sex case that cast shadows on him before his government's collapse in 2011.
"The accusation was unjust and slanderous," said a moved Berlusconi while leaving the facility for sick elderly people near Milan where he is doing one year of community service to serve a separate tax-fraud conviction.
The news was a triumph for his lawyers, who said the appeal verdict was going beyond their rosiest predictions. The first-level ruling a year ago had sentenced Berlusconi to jail for alleged sex with an underage prostitute known as "Ruby" and extortion in using his power to cover the affair while he was prime minister in 2010.
There is one more level of appeal before the sentence would become final. But how was Friday's overturning possible?
According to experts, the accusation of "extortion" resulted to be juridically unfounded after a change in the related law was carried out between the first- and second-level verdicts. "Absolutely the extortion offense was not applicable to this case," a lawyer and criminal law professor at La Sapienza University in Rome, Alfonso Stile, told Xinhua shortly after the sentence came out.
Stile, who is also Vice President of the International Association of Penal Law (AIDP), noted the police officer allegedly pressured by Berlusconi to release Ruby after she was detained on an unrelated theft did not obtain anything in return, differently from what envisaged by the extortion law.
Moreover, the lawyer added, extortion is the crime of a public official using his position to obtain favors from a private citizen, which was not the Berlusconi case. "That being so, the first-level verdict was totally wrong. There can be some reasons why judges decided so, but actually I never heard a lawyer saying that sentence was right. Today's verdict is what we expected," he said.
More explanations about the ruling will be known within 90 days, the time limit for appeal judges to record the justification for the sentence. But what was immediately clear to political analysts on Friday was that the acquittal may enable Berlusconi to remain a strong influence in politics.
The media entrepreneur has been ejected from parliament for effect of his legal troubles, but is still the head of Forza Italia (FI), his right-wing opposition party which is collaborating with the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to introduce institutional reforms including an important new voting law.
"At this point, I think it will be much easier for Renzi to carry out reforms with Berlusconi," Peter Gomez, co-founder and columnist of Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, told Xinhua. Berlusconi's reinforced leadership, he added, will help smooth tensions in FI, which has been recently in trouble because of disagreements on the reforms, and temporarily help the center-left government.
However, Gomez highlighted, what electors of Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) especially expect from his mandate are economic reforms to revive Italy's stagnant economy after a dramatic recession that left the country mired in public debt and record-high unemployment. "If recovery is not achieved, Renzi will pay a high price," the political observer stressed.
Should something go wrong in the reform process to re-launch the Italian economy, a strengthened Berlusconi resulting from Friday's verdict would represent a bigger risk for Renzi, as timely suggested by his allies on Friday.
"Not only it has been proved that Berlusconi was innocent, but also that he was the victim of an unfair verdict" and consequently of a "coup d'etat" in 2011 that led to three unelected governments including the current one, Renato Brunetta, FI leader in the lower house and public administration and innovation minister in Berlusconi's last government, told Xinhua.
"In 2008 Berlusconi's party won 37 percent of the popular vote (Renzi's PD got nearly 41 percent of the votes in May's European elections)," Brunetta said. "What I aim for is early elections, the earliest as possible, and we want to win," he highlighted.
Italian appeal court acquits Berlusconi in sex case
MILAN, July 18 (Xinhua) -- A Milan appeal court on Friday acquitted former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from charges of paying sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his power to cover it up.
The judges overturned the first-level verdict, which last year had sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in jail at the end of a two-year-long trial composed of 50 hearings. There is one more level of appeal before the sentence would become final. Full story
Berlusconi's Mediaset Premium sells 11-pct stake to Spanish Telefonica
MILAN, July 7 (Xinhua) -- The pay-TV division of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Mediaset Premium, announced on Monday that it will sell an 11.1 percent share to Spanish telecom giant Telefonica.
Telefonica will pay 100 million euros (136 million U.S. dollars) in the deal, the statement said. Full story