A court in the Italian city of Milan on Monday denied a request filed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to postpone his trial on charges of having sex with an under-age prostitute until after the general elections due to be held next month.
Berlusconi's lawyers had argued during the hearing that the trial should be postponed until after the elections as their client would be too busy campaigning for the polls to follow or attend the hearings. They also expressed fears that the trial may influence the outcome of the elections. But the judges rejected their claims and refused to postpone the trial.
Berlusconi is accused of having sex with the underage Moroccan night club dancer Karima el Mahroug, better known by her stage name Ruby Heartbreak, while he was in office, and abusing his power later to conceal the liaison by getting her freed from police custody.
Berlusconi has denied the allegations, stressing that they are part of a politically motivated witch hunt initiated by biased left-wing magistrates in Milan. Although Berlusconi has admitted to giving money to Mahroug, he insists that the money was intended to help her set up a beauty parlor and not in return for sex as alleged by the prosecutors.
Nevertheless, prosecutors claim that they have ample evidence to prove that the 74-year-old former Prime Minister paid for having sex with Mahroug. However, Mahroug has denied having sex with Berlusconi, but admitted receiving at least 7,000 euros ($9,500) after attending a party at his luxurious private residence at Arcore near Milan.
Mahroug arrived in Italy on Monday morning to testify on behalf of the defense. But the court decided not hear her testimony after Berlusconi's lawyers withdrew her as a witness. Notably, Mahroug had missed the trial despite being called twice as she was on holiday in Mexico.
Prostitution is not banned in Italy, but paying for sex with a minor commands a maximum sentence of three years and abuse of political power carries a jail term of between six and twelve years. This implies that Berlusconi could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Notably, a final decision in the case is not expected any time soon even if the court in Milan finds Berlusconi guilty of the charges, as the former premier is allowed two levels of appeal under Italian law. The process is expected to take years to reach a conclusion after the appeal options are exhausted.
Berlusconi's relationship with the teenage nightclub dancer came to light in November 2010, when it emerged that Ruby was freed from police custody after being arrested for theft on the intervention of the former Italian Prime Minister. Berlusconi said later that he had intervened under the belief that she was the niece of the then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "to avoid an international diplomatic incident."
Incidentally, Berlusconi faced several other trials until recently. But most of the criminal investigations against him on several charges, including bribery and corruption, ended in acquittal or were thrown due to expiry of statute of limitations.
But Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison by the Milan court in October after finding him guilty of tax fraud in connection with the purchase of US film and television rights by his Mediaset television company. The former premier has appealed against that verdict, there by opening up the appeal options which could drag on for years.
Berlusconi, 76, had resigned as the Italian Prime Minister in November 2011 amidst the sovereign debt crisis as well as corruption and sex scandals involving him. Even before his resignation after three terms in office, Berlusconi's grip on power had weakened due to bitter divisions within his coalition, mainly over scandals and his alleged failure to handle the country's economic crisis.
His successor, unelected economist Mario Monti, was forced to resign last month after Berlusconi's conservative PDL party withdrew support for his government. Subsequently President Giorgio Napolitano asked Monti to continue as the head of the interim administration until a new government emerges from the February elections.
Berlusconi's PDL party has since formed an alliance with the right-wing Northern League to run in the February 24-25 general elections in which the center-left Democratic Party led by Pier Luigi Bersani has been predicted to win. Nevertheless, Berlusconi has indicated that he would be happy to take the role of finance minister if the center-right is voted to power in the elections.
by RTT Staff Writer
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