MILAN, June 20 Silvio Berlusconi's appeal of his
conviction for abuse of office and paying for sex with a minor
began on Friday, opening a new legal battle that could severely
limit any active political role for the former Italian prime
Berlusconi was convicted last year for paying for sex with
former nightclub dancer Kharima El Mahroug, better known by the
stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", when she was under 18, and
of abusing his authority to get her released from police custody
over unrelated theft accusations.
The four-time prime minister, still the most influential
politician on Italy's centre right, was handed a seven-year jail
sentence and banned from holding public office. He will not
serve any time in jail unless his conviction is upheld and the
two-stage appeals process is exhausted. The appeals trial that
started Friday was the first part of the process.
The final verdict in the so-called Ruby trial could have
implications for Berlusconi and his freedom to engage in
political activity beyond the case itself.
Berlusconi received a definitive conviction for tax fraud
last year and was stripped of his seat in parliament. He was
given a four-year jail sentence, but that was commuted to a
year's community service under a general amnesty, leaving him
largely free to campaign in elections and play a political role.
However, a second definitive conviction in a criminal trial
would violate the terms of the amnesty. That could mean
Berlusconi would have to serve time under house arrest.
He denies any wrongdoing and says he is being hounded by
left-wing magistrates for political reasons.
Ruby herself has always denied having sex with Berlusconi
and defended him on Friday in an interview published in Il
Giornale, a newspaper owned by the 77-year-old media tycoon's
"The truth is Berlusconi has respected me more than any
other man I have met in nightclubs and discos," she told the
newspaper. "They gave him seven years for nothing."
(Reporting by Emilio Parodi; Editing by Larry King)