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Appeal court overturns Berlusconi convictions in underage sex case

By Susannah Cullinane and Hada Messia, CNN
updated 10:49 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has claimed he has been persecuted by leftist magistrates.
Billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has claimed he has been persecuted by leftist magistrates.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prosecutors said Berlusconi had sex with underage dancer called "Ruby the heart-stealer"
  • Berlusconi appealed his 2013 conviction and Milan's Court of Appeal acquitted him Friday
  • Judge: One alleged act "did not take place"; the facts of another "do not constitute a crime"
  • Acquittal can be appealed to Italy's Supreme Court, which would make a final ruling

(CNN) -- An Italian appeal court has overturned former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's convictions for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power.

A panel of judges convicted Berlusconi of both charges in June 2013, sentencing the flamboyant billionaire tycoon to seven years in prison and barring him from holding public office.

Prosecutors had argued that Berlusconi had sex 13 times with underage dancer Karima el Mahroug -- known as "Ruby the heart-stealer" -- and abused his position when he intervened in May 2010 to get her released from jail, where she was being held on charges of theft.

They said Berlusconi paid el Mahroug and other young women performing stripteases and erotic actions at "bunga bunga" parties. Berlusconi said the parties were normal dinner gatherings where no one misbehaved.

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He denied the charges against him and his attorney told reporters at the time that he would appeal the convictions, arguing that it had not been a fair trial.

The billionaire media tycoon claimed he had persecuted by leftist magistrates.

"There are still people who use the penal code as a weapon in their ideological battles," he said last year.

On Friday, Milan Court of Appeal presiding judge Concetta Locurto read his acquittal verdict live on Italian television.

Locurto said Berlusconi, 77, had been acquitted of the charge of abuse of office because the "the act did not take place" and from prostitution with a minor because the "facts do not constitute a crime."

Milan's prosecutor can appeal the verdict to Italy's Supreme Court, which would make a final ruling in the case.

Berlusconi, who served on and off as prime minister between 1994 and 2011, is arguably one of the most colorful and controversial figures in the lively history of Italian politics. For years, he has been entangled in fraud, corruption and sex scandals that have often reached Italian courts.

Berlusconi was handed a four-year community service sentence last August -- commuted to a year -- for tax fraud at Mediaset, the large commercial broadcaster that he founded.

He is is serving that sentence at a hospice near Milan -- where he was for today's acquittal in the Ruby case.

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