By Marco Carta
ROME (Reuters) -An Italian court on Thursday acquitted former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of bribing a witness in a 2013 underage prostitution case, giving a boost to the veteran politician weeks after his return to parliament.
Berlusconi, 86, was charged with allegedly paying Italian singer Mariano Apicella 157,000 euros ($162,000) to lie in a previous trial where he was accused of paying to have sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer.
Berlusconi, leader of the Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party that is backing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's newly installed government, was eventually acquitted in that case.
He pleaded not guilty in the subsequent bribery trial and Rome prosecutor Roberto Felici told the court on Thursday that charges should be dropped.
The judges agreed and also acquitted Apicella of receiving bribes, additionally clearing him of perjury allegations because the time limit for reaching a verdict had passed.
"This was an impeccable ruling because there was no evidence of corrupt deals," Berlusconi's lawyer Franco Coppi told reporters, adding his client had called him to express satisfaction with the verdict.
Apicella was a regular guest singer at many of Berlusconi's so-called Bunga Bunga parties that triggered the scandal contributing to the media magnate's downfall as prime minister in 2011, marking the end of his fourth government.
Berlusconi was eventually excluded from parliament in 2013 after his conviction in a tax fraud case. He won a seat in the upper house Senate in September after his ban on holding elected office expired.
The defence said Apicella had been given monthly contributions from Berlusconi since 2002 for fees or donations, unrelated to the charges brought before the court.
The trial in Rome is one of three interconnected cases which have been prosecuted in different cities for reasons of territorial jurisdiction.
In a separate case pending at a Milan court, Berlusconi is accused of bribing 24 witnesses, mostly young guests at his evening parties. Prosecutors in May requested the he be jailed for six years. Berlusconi has denied the charge and a verdict is not expected before January 2023.
Last year a court in Siena acquitted Berlusconi of allegedly bribing another witness to his parties. Prosecutors have appealed the ruling, but no new trial date has been set.
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(Reporting by Marco Carta, writing by Emilio Parodi; Editing by Crispian Balmer and David Gregorio)