Berlusconi invokes God's revenge over fraud conviction

Silvio Berlusconi
Italy's Silvio Berlusconi said his conviction for tax fraud "cried out for vengeance before God" and his trial for having sex with an underage prostitute was "a giant operation for defamation".

The three-time prime minister and playboy billionaire also said he had been "tricked" into hosting parties with hordes of young women at his luxury villas at a time when he felt "lonely" after separating from his second wife.

But he assured viewers on a chat show on Canale 5, part of his Mediaset media empire, that he was now happy with a girlfriend 48 years his junior.

Berlusconi has said he will launch his sixth campaign in two decades for elections in February unless Mario Monti, the man who succeeded him as prime minister, decides to run.

Observers say his re-election bid could be tricky from a legal standpoint.

Berlusconi's one-year prison sentence and five-year ban from holding public office stemming from a conviction in October for tax fraud linked to Mediaset have only been frozen pending an appeal that is expected to begin in January.

A verdict is also looming in his trial for paying for sex while he was prime minister with a then 17-year-old exotic dancer, Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, known by her professional nickname as "Ruby the Heart Stealer".

The 76-year-old is also charged with abuse of power for having allegedly putting pressure on police to release her from custody when she was detained for theft.

Berlusconi has denied all charges and says he only contacted the police because he thought she was then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's niece.

"The Ruby trial has been an incredible machination," he said.

"It was an excuse to put in place a giant operation for defamation against me and against the Italian government, including on an international level," he added.

"Politicians get used to all kinds of slights after 20 years in politics. But there is one thing that cries out for vengeance before God and before man. I have been sentenced by a panel of judges in Milan!"

Asked about the parties that have been the sources of many of the sex scandals he has been involved in in recent years, Berlusconi said: "It was a time when I felt very lonely. I had just got divorced, my sister had died.

"Then someone said: 'Why don't we organise some soirees?' I was tricked."

Berlusconi said he was now more in touch with his daughter Marina "who mothers me" and was going steady with 27-year-old Francesca Pascale, a devotee from Naples who worked on Berlusconi's 2008 election campaign.

"She's beautiful on the outside but even more beautiful on the inside. Finally, I feel less lonely," he said.

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