Italian prosecutors seek immediate Berlusconi trial

TN News

Email Print

Milan prosecutors on Wednesday requested that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi be put on trial immediately for abuse of power and having sex with an under-age girl nicknamed "˜Ruby the heart-stealer'.

The prosecutors said in a statement they had "sent the examining magistrate a request for an immediate trial on the basis of sufficient evidence" for both offences.

Berlusconi reacted by condemning his accusers as acting subversively and dismissed their case as a pretext by a politically biased judiciary to oust him.

"I can only say that it's a farce, they are accusations without any basis. The only aim of the inquiry is to defame me in the media," he said, condemning "this activity, which in my modest opinion, only has subversive purposes."

Chief prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati and his fellow judges allege that the 74-year-old leader paid for sex with nightclub dancer Ruby, who was 17 at the time, and improperly used his power as prime minister by requesting that police release her after she had been arrested for alleged theft in May.

Using the services of prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, but paying for sex with a girl under the age of 18 is illegal. Berlusconi has denied ever paying for sex, let alone with Ruby, who only turned 18 in November 2010.

Under Italian law, the fast-track procedure of summary judgement, which skips preliminary hearings and goes straight to trial, can be requested by the public prosecutor's office when there is clear evidence of an offence.

But Berlusconi's lawyers claim the Italian leader did not abuse his power when he told police to release Ruby, because he believed she was the niece of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which was untrue.

Berlusconi had therefore been carrying out his duty by helping a fellow leader and avoiding diplomatic fallout, they say.

"The charge of graft has no basis, I intervened because I was worried about an international diplomatic incident," the prime minister said on Wednesday.

But the prosecutors also submitted a legal memo in which they reject the idea that Berlusconi intervened for diplomatic reasons.

The abuse of power charges are being kept separate from the probe into allegations that Berlusconi had sex with a minor.

The billionaire's TV anchorman friend Emilio Fede, talent scout Lele Mora and Nicole Minetti, a regional representative for Berlusconi's party, are also under investigation for instigating prostitution as part of the probe.

Examining magistrate Cristina Di Censo will now have at least five days to come to a decision and could fix a start date for the trial for sometime in the coming months.

But should she decide the request lacks sufficient proof to warrant a speedy trial, magistrates will then have to try to bring Berlusconi to trial through normal, more lengthy channels.

Di Censo will also have to decide whether the Milan court is competent to judge the case. Berlusconi's lawyers claim the prime minister can only be judged by a special court for members of parliament.

"The Milan court is violating the constitution," Niccolo Ghedini, one of the prime minister's lawyers, said ahead of the request on Tuesday.

Should Di Censo give the Milan court the nod, Ghedini has said he will appeal and the motion will go to a vote in the Chamber of Deputies, where Berlusconi's center-right ruling party has the majority.

The probe into the prime minister's allegedly wild sex life was made public on January 14 just a day after a top court partially stripped him of political immunity.

The prime minister flatly refused to obey summons for questioning, claiming the magistrates based in Milan were not qualified to handle the case.

But with judges now deciding on a case-by-case basis if Berlusconi should appear in court proceedings, the Italian leader may be forced to obey a summons should the case go to trial, if he cannot prove a legitimate impediment.

Handfulls of the prime minister's supporters gathered outside the court in Milan where the prosecutors had submitted their request for an immediate trial, shouting messages of support for the Italian leader.

Sordid details from wiretaps and allegations of orgies made the headlines for weeks but despite a media hounding and fierce condemnation from the Roman Catholic Church, the scandal appeared to have little effect on his standing in January's opinion polls.

But with his political immunity weakened, Berlusconi now finds himself facing old charges, including witness corruption and tax fraud.

A Milan court on Tuesday announced that the trial of the prime minister for alleged corruption of his former tax lawyer David Mills will resume in March. A second trial for tax evasion linked to Berlusconi's Mediaset television empire will resume in February.

Berlusconi has so far never been definitively convicted despite a string of court cases over alleged financial crimes. However, in the new cases, he faces three years in prison if found guilty of paying minors for sex, and from six to eight years for abuse of power.

More World News