Italian court acquits Berlusconi in sex case

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Italian court acquits Berlusconi in sex case
MILAN, ITALY - JULY 18: Silvio Berlusconi leaves the Fondazione Sacra Famiglia on July 18, 2014 in Milan, Italy. Today Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted on appeal against the conviction for paying for sex with an underage prostitute. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
This image made from a Rai television video shows the president of the court Enrico Tranfa, center, as he reads the appeals sentence acquitting former Premier Silvio Berlusconi in a sex-for-hire case. The court's decision Friday also throws out his seven-year-prison sentence and lifetime ban on holding political office that were given to him by a lower court when it convicted him last year. Berlusconi had been accused of of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and then using his influence to cover it up. (AP Photo/Rai television, HO)
Silvio Berlusconi waves from his car as he leaves the Sacra Famiglia' community in Cesano Boscone, near Milan, Italy, Friday, June 20, 2014. Silvio Berlusconi’s legal challenge to a conviction of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute has opened as the ex-premier spent his seventh morning working with Alzheimer’s patients as part of a tax-fraud sentence. Berlusconi is appealing a conviction, seven-year prison sentence and lifetime ban from politics. He denies having had sex with the Moroccan teen at the center of the scandal that revealed racy, sex-fueled “bunga bunga” parties at the then-premier’s villa near Milan. The appeals trial, which opened Friday, is expected to continue for months. Berlusconi is performing community service four hours a week as part of his sentence for tax fraud. The four-year sentence was reduced to one year under a general amnesty, which can apply only to a first conviction. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves after a press conference on June 18, 2014 in Rome. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi leaves after a press conference on June 18, 2014 in Rome. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
MILAN, ITALY - JUNE 06: President of AC Milan Silvio Berlusconi arrives at AC Milan's Casa Milan on June 6, 2014 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Journalists wait for the arrival of Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the Catholic hospice 'Sacra Famiglia' (Holy Family Institute foundation) in Cesano Boscone where Berlusconi will begin community service for tax fraud on May 9, 2014. The billionaire tycoon, who was convicted last year and has been expelled from parliament, has been ordered to work once a week for up to a year as a volunteer in a hospice for Alzheimer's patients just outside Milan. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
A nun arrives at the Catholic hospice 'Sacra Famiglia' (Holy Family Institute foundation) in Cesano Boscone where Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will begin community service for tax fraud on May 9, 2014. The billionaire tycoon, who was convicted last year and has been expelled from parliament, has been ordered to work once a week for up to a year as a volunteer in a hospice for Alzheimer's patients just outside Milan. AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives at the Catholic hospice 'Sacra Famiglia' (Holy Family Institute foundation) in Cesano Boscone to begin community service for tax fraud on May 9, 2014. The billionaire tycoon, who was convicted last year and has been expelled from parliament, has been ordered to work once a week for up to a year as a volunteer in a hospice for Alzheimer's patients just outside Milan. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
A man protests against Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi near the Catholic hospice 'Sacra Famiglia' (Holy Family Institute foundation) in Cesano Boscone where Berlusconi begins community service for tax fraud on May 9, 2014. The billionaire tycoon, who was convicted last year and has been expelled from parliament, has been ordered to work once a week for up to a year as a volunteer in a hospice for Alzheimer's patients just outside Milan. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)
MILAN, ITALY - MAY 09: A protester against Silvio Berlusconi is stopped by security in front of the Fondazione Sacra Famiglia in Cesano Bosconeon May 9, 2014 in Milan, Italy. Today Silvio Berlusconi starts his community service for tax fraud at Fondazione Sacra Famiglia in Cesano Boscone. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
MILAN, ITALY - MAY 09: Silvio Berlusconi arrives at Fondazione Sacra Famiglia in Cesano Bosconeon May 9, 2014 in Milan, Italy. Today Silvio Berlusconi starts his community service for tax fraud at Fondazione Sacra Famiglia in Cesano Boscone. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Journalists wait oustside at the Catholic hospice 'Sacra Famiglia' (Holy Family Institute foundation) in Cesano Boscone before the arrival of Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who will began community service for tax fraud today on May 9, 2014. The billionaire tycoon, who was convicted last year and has been expelled from parliament, has been ordered to work once a week for up to a year as a volunteer in a hospice for Alzheimer's patients just outside Milan. AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
ALTERNATIVE VERSION OF XLB101-- Italy's former Premier Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves the 'Sacra Famiglia' institute in Cesano Boscone, Italy, Friday, July 18, 2014. An Italian appeals court acquitted former Premier Silvio Berlusconi in a sex-for-hire case. The court's decision Friday also throws out his seven-year-prison sentence and lifetime ban on holding political office that were given to him by a lower court when it convicted him last year. Berlusconi had been accused of of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and then using his influence to cover it up. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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MILAN (AP) - An Italian appeals court on Friday acquitted former Premier Silvio Berlusconi in a sex-for-hire case, reversing a lower court conviction that had carried a seven-year prison sentence and a lifetime ban on holding political office.

The case has grabbed global attention, offering an unseemly peek into the 77-year-old three-time premier's private life, with witness testimony revealing raunchy, sex-fueled bunga-bunga parties at his private villa attended by a bevy of aspiring showgirls.

The prosecution alleged that Berlusconi had paid for sex with an underage prostitute, a Moroccan named Karima el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby, and then using his influence to cover it up.

He denied the charges, and both he and el-Mahroug, who was 17 when she frequented Berlusconi's villa, denied ever having had sex.

The acquittal was announced just as Berlusconi was leaving a facility for Alzheimer's patients where he is performing community service for a separate conviction on a tax fraud charge. That is the only case finalized against Berlusconi, who has faced dozens of trials, mostly for his business dealings.

Berlusconi thrust his hand from a car as he was being driven away from facility and a political supporter waiting at the gate grabbed his hand and shook it. The window was then rolled up and the media mogul waved as he was driven away.

Berlusconi's defense lawyer, Franco Coppi, said the decision "goes beyond the rosiest predictions," adding that he would have been satisfied with an acquittal for lack of evidence. But the court went further, saying that no crimes had been committed.

While the court has 90 days to issue its reasoning, Coppi said the decision to acquit for paying an underage prostitute for sex could have been due to Berlusconi's testimony that he believed el-Mahroug was over 18.

The case may not end there, however. Prosecutors can challenge Friday's acquittal in Italy's highest criminal court, the Court of Cassation.

Berlusconi also is on trial in Naples accused of political corruption, and under investigation in Milan accused of witness-tampering in the sex-for-hire trial and in another related case involving three aides who were convicted of procuring prostitutes for his parties.

Berlusconi remains influential on the Italian political scene as head of his Forza Italia party, despite the tax fraud conviction's ban on holding political office for two years that led the Senate to yank his seat.

The verdict was widely lauded by political backers. One of Berlusconi's staunchest, lawmaker Renato Brunetta, hailed "Berlusconi innocent!!!" on Twitter.

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