February 8, 2011 11:05 pm

Lawyers to seek Berlusconi sex trial

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Prosecutors investigating Silvio Berlusconi’s relationship with an alleged underage prostitute intend to submit a request for his immediate trial to a Milan judge on Wednesay, raising the prospect of Italy’s prime minister facing multiple court cases within weeks.

Comments to reporters on Tuesday by Edmondo Bruti Liberati, chief prosecutor in Milan, signalled the end of a seven-week investigation into Mr Berlusconi, 74, who is accused of paying for sex with Karima El Mahroug, a teenage Moroccan nightclub dancer and abusing his authority in trying to cover up their relationship.

Should the Milan judge agree to the prosecutors’ request to proceed to indictment without a preliminary hearing, then Mr Berlusconi could face three trials in coming weeks following decisions by courts to resume two cases against him on charges of tax fraud and corrupting his former UK lawyer, David Mills, to give false testimony related to his media empire.

Mr Berlusconi denies wrongdoing and accuses “communists” within the judiciary of waging a witch-hunt. The constitutional court ruled last month that he could not endlessly use an excuse of official engagements to avoid trial hearings, prompting the government to push for fresh legislation that would keep him out of the courts.

In spite of the mounting pressure on Mr Berlusconi and his slim majority in parliament, a leading opposition politician conceded that the billionaire prime minister may yet see out the remaining two years of his five-year term, partly thanks to the powers of his media machine and partial control over state television.

Italy was divided between those who said prosecutors should be ashamed at invading Mr Berlusconi’s private life in tapping the phones of young women invited to his parties and those who want him to quit, commented Italo Bocchino, one of more than 30 MPs who broke with the premier’s People of Liberty party last year.

The case – known as Rubygate, after the stage-name of the dancer who admits receiving money from Mr Berlusconi – will come before a judge who has five days to respond to the prosecutors’ request. In theory a trial could begin within weeks.

Mr Berlusconi and Ms El Mahroug, who was 17 at the time of the alleged offences last year, deny the allegations. Mr Berlusconi, who says he has never paid for sex, also denies putting pressure on a Milan police chief to release the teenager when she was detained on suspicion of theft in May.

Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers have raised procedural issues, arguing that he should appear before a special tribunal for ministers and not a criminal court.

The prosecution’s case against Mr Berlusconi and three others, who are accused of procuring a “significant” number of prostitutes for “bunga bunga” sex parties at the prime minister’s Milan villa, were leaked on the internet after the investigation was presented to parliament last month. Deputies later voted to deny a request to search Mr Berlusconi’s office in Milan which was suspected of managing payments to prostitutes.

The two offences of abuse of office and sex with a prostitute under the age of 18 carry a combined maximum jail term of 15 years.

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