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Europe

Prosecutors want Berlusconi to stand trial

Video by William EDWARDS

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-02-15

Milan prosecutors have requested that Italy’s beleaguered prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, stand trial in connection with allegations that he paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl and then used his influence to have her released from prison.

AFP - Italian prosecutors Wednesday requested that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi be put on trial immediately for abuse of power and having sex with an underage girl, nicknamed Ruby the heartstealer.

The Milan 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.

"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.

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.

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, lengthier channels.

Di Censo will also have to rule on whether the Milan court is competent to judge the case. Berlusconi's lawyers claim he 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 Tuesday's request.

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 party has the majority.

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

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

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

Around 50 the prime minister's supporters gathered outside the Milan court where the prosecutors submitted their request for an immediate trial, shouting messages of support.

Some waved banners proclaiming "100 trials and zero convictions = persecution," a reference to many trials over the years against the prime minister on charges including witness corruption and tax fraud.

Though Berlusconi has been sentenced to a total of six years and five months in prison over the years, each case has either been overturned on appeal or been invalidated under the statue of limitations.

Should he come to trial for the latest allegations, he faces three years in prison if found guilty of paying minors for sex, and from six to eight years for abuse of power.

Date created : 2011-02-08

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