Prosecutors and Silvio Berlusconi's defense attorneys are building their cases in a tawdry prostitution scandal that may be the gravest threat ever to the Italian Prime Minister's political survival
Berlusconi last March in Brussels (courtesy of European People's Party)
MILAN - The prostitution scandal engulfing Silvio Berlusconi started with a phone call in May, and finds the prosecution now on the hunt for new evidence that could bring down the embattled Italian prime minister in the most embarrassing of trials.
That call, eight months ago, was from a Brazilian prostitute named Michelle Conceicao to her friend "Papi Silvio Berluscono" (that's how she wrote it down in her phone book, misspelling his last name). Conceicao wanted to inform the prime minister, who was in Paris, that a mutual friend had been arrested on suspicion of theft, and was being held at a police station. That mutual friend was Karima El Mahroug, known as Ruby "Rubacuori," or Ruby "the Heart Stealer," a Moroccan girl who was 17 at the time. (Berlusconi soon called the police in Milan to ask for the girl's release and sent an associate to pick her up).
Berlusconi's latest legal odyssey is possibly his toughest to date – and it's unfolding fast. The prime minister has refused to heed a summons by Milan prosecutors, but if they press ahead with their plan to seek a fast-track case, Berlusconi might find himself, in no more than two months, in the uncomfortable role of defendant in a prostitution-related trial.
Do the prosecutors have a smoking gun against Berlusconi?
Berlusconi is under investigation for two suspected crimes, abetting child prostitution and abuse of public office. Though perhaps of less interest to tabloids, the latter is more dangerous for Berlusconi for the evidence is stronger. Berlusconi does not deny that he made a phone call to police in May, though he has not commented on news reports that he identified the girl as a relative of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president. But the premier insists that he only intervened "to help a girl who was in trouble because I'm a good-hearted person," and that he did not know that the girl was a minor.
Some facts, however, appear to contradict his statements. First of all, if he didn't know the girl was a minor, why did he call his associate, Nicole Minetti, so that she could take custody of Ruby? Furthermore, Giorgia Ioffredi, who was on duty at the police station that night, received a phone call from a high-ranking Milan police official, Pietro Ostuni.
"Ostuni told me that it had been made known from Rome that the minor of Moroccan origin _ who I stress was the only minor at the police barracks in that moment _ was in fact a relative of Mubarak," Ioffredi said when questioned by the prosecutors. How could Ostuni, who called Ioffredi from home, know that the girl was a minor? Says Ostuni: "During the phone conversation (with Berlusconi) the word ‘minor" was never pronounced, but it was implicit that it was about a minor because the conversation was over granting somebody custody of a person who had no documents."
Berlusconi's phone call caused a frenzy of activity at the police hq, with dozens of phone calls among the various officers until 2 am, when Ruby was released into the custody of Minetti, the Berlusconi associate. The decision to release her, in fact, went against the ruling of the magistrate in charge of minors, Annamaria Fiorillo. Minetti then left Ruby in the hands of the Brazilian prostitute who had sought Berlusconi's help in the first place.
Berlusconi insists that the case is outside the Milan prosecutors' jurisdiction. He says the case should be brought before the Tribunal of Ministers (which deals with alleged crimes committed by government members in the execution of their duties). The prosecution maintains that Berlusconi's intervention to release Ruby did not pertain to his government duties but rather personal and private interests.
The second suspected crime is related to child prostitution. According to the prosecution, when Berlusconi intervened with the Milan police and abused his powers "to gain undue non-monetary profit for himself and the minor," he did so in order to prevent Ruby's full identification and prevent her from revealing the "red-light" nights she spent at Berlusconi's villa at Arcore, near Milan.
But in this case, the prosecutors rely on largely circumstantial evidence -- mostly wiretaps; statements offered by Ruby, which have not been made public; payments or money transfers to Ruby either from Berlusconi directly or from Giuseppe Spinelli, a Berlusconi aide who deals with the premier's personal finances. There are also several apartments that were made available to the girls who most frequently attended parties at the villa.
For this charge, the key witness would be Ruby herself, but in all the interviews she has given, she has always denied having sexual relations with Berlusconi. However, in wiretaps collected by the prosecutors, she tells her friends the opposite, and even makes it clear that she wants to make money out of the whole affair.
Prosecutors have established that she was at the premier's Arcore villa 12 times between February and May, thanks to a check on Ruby's cell phone activity, as the villa itself was never monitored. They have also ascertained her contacts with Spinelli in order to receive money, and bills from October have been tracked down and retrieved in Genoa. That same month, during a wiretap, Ruby -- who was likely "questioned" by Berlusconi's defense -- is heard recounting "hard-core scenes with the…person. "
So far, the only eye witness is Nadia Macri, a call girl who claims she saw Ruby during an orgy at the Arcore villa on April 24. But her statement is still being assessed. Berlusconi says he never knew Ruby was a minor, and that he never had sex with her. He insists the dinner parties he throws at his villa are convivial and elegant affairs. "I've never paid for a woman (for sex) in my whole life," he says.
The prosecutors say wiretaps, text messages, money changing hands and cell phone movements all show that Ruby has spent days and nights at Arcore, received several thousand euros, and even that she admitted to taking part in so-called "bunga bunga" sex parties. They maintain Berlusconi was aware of her age, since the girl was well known to Emilio Fede, a longtime Berlusconi friend who has also been placed under investigation. On the question of whether Berlusconi paid for sex, prosecutors say they can provide money transfers and several wiretaps.
Only a small part of the prosecutors' arsenal is known. New searches were carried out last week that may have turned up more evidence of payments (possibly envelops signed "Silvio B"), perhaps even very recent money transfers and photos. Technical experts are still hard at work unlocking the memory of mobile phones and computers seized.
Read the original article in Italian
Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.
[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.
• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.
• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.
• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.
• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.
• Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.
• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."
— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.
🕌 🔍 IN OTHER NEWS
Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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- Where Are The Doses? How U.S. And Europe Vaccine Pledges ... ›
- Hong Kong's International Food Scene Gets Political - Worldcrunch ›
- Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam ... ›
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