MILAN – Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi is under fresh investigation just as he reasserts himself on the political scene as the center-right's powerbroker, this time for allegedly attempting to derail investigations into his infamous `'bunga bunga" parties.
The Milan prosecutor's office on Thursday launched the investigation against Berlusconi, two of his long-time lawyers and some 40 other people, mostly aspiring showgirls attending the parties and including the Moroccan woman at the center of the scandal . The investigation centers on allegations that Berlusconi had women paid off to lie to court officials during trials stemming from the sex-fueled parties at then-Premier Berlusconi's residence near Milan.
The new investigation comes just days after Berlusconi met with the new leader of the center-left, Matteo Renzi, in an attempt to hammer out a common position on stalled initiatives, including a new election law. Renzi's meeting with Berlusconi, despite his having been booted from Parliament on a tax fraud conviction, has stirred debate on Berlusconi's role since his tax fraud conviction and four-year sentence have been confirmed by Italy's highest court. Berlusconi is expected to serve the one year not set aside under a general amnesty by doing social services.
Berlusconi, 77, has no post in the fragile government that emerged from last year's inconclusive elections, and he pulled his support last fall after lawmakers removed him from the Senate. Still, he remains the most influential leader on the center-right after his party swept to second place in Italy's last national vote.
In the `'bunga bunga" case, Berlusconi is appealing a conviction, seven-year jail sentence and lifetime political ban for paying for sex with an underage minor and using his influence to cover it up. Three former aides also were convicted of procuring women willing to act as prostitutes during the party, receiving stiff sentences from a judge who forwarded files to prosecutors to investigate charges of witness tampering against Berlusconi, his lawyers and witnesses to the trials.
Ever defiant, Berlusconi vowed in a statement to remain on Italy's political scene, and repeated his contention that Italian magistrates are politically motivated to sideline him. `'I am here and will remain here, feeling the clear and strong responsibility that comes from the trust and votes of citizens," Berlusconi said.
His lawyers, Nicolo Gheddini and Pietro Longo, both deny allegations of witness tampering. In a statement, they said they are confident the case will be closed with no indictment.