The trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on charges that he paid for sex with an underage girl and for abuse of power opened on Wednesday in Milan but was immediately adjourned until May 31.
REUTERS - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and later trying to cover it up opened on Wednesday and was immediately adjourned until May 31.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s trial on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and later trying to cover it up opened on Wednesday and was immediately adjourned until May 31.
The "Rubygate" case has gripped media attention like few others, overshadowing Italian
BERLUSCONI TO FACE CHARGES IN UNDERAGED PROSTITUTION CASE
politics for months, although it has not caused the kind of damage to Berlusconi's political career that it would have in many other European countries.
Berlusconi, attending a cabinet meeting Rome, chose not to attend the opening session, which lasted about 10 minutes.
Some 100 television crews from as far away as Australia had been vying for space in front of the courthouse after the judges ruled they would not be allowed to enter. About 100 journalists were expected inside the court.
Berlusconi is accused of giving cash and jewels to Moroccan-born Karima El Mahroug, a dancer who goes by the stage name of Ruby, in exchange for sex when she was only 17 years old and thus too young under Italian law to be paid as a prostitute.
Berlusconi is also accused of abusing the powers of his office to have Ruby released from police custody over unrelated theft allegations, in an apparent bid to prevent details of their connection emerging in official evidence.
Berlusconi has denied the charges against him and has launched a string of bitter attacks on what he describes as leftist magistrates determined to destroy him politically.
Already hit by a party revolt last year that nearly sank his centre-right government, he has been hurt by the affair, which has drawn condemnation from women's groups, the Catholic Church and even the country's main business lobby.
But public opinion in Italy, traditionally forgiving in questions of private morality, has not been as damning as it would be in many countries and his parliamentary majority has been strong enough to see off opposition calls on him to resign.
Legal manoeuvring may push the case into the kind of judicial limbo that has seen many past cases involving Italian politicians run into the sand. But even by the turbulent standards of Italian politics, the accusations are extraordinary and would almost certainly have ended the career of any other European leader, especially given the raft of unsolved problems facing the government.
Berlusconi embroiled in sex scandal
Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest businessmen, admits a fondness for young women but has dismissed the scandalous stories, saying the dinners he regularly holds are quiet, convivial occasions where guests eat, tell jokes and sing songs.
He says the presents of cash, jewels, cars and houses investigators say were given to the young women who attended were no more than generous gestures which his vast fortune easily permits.
He has pledged to fight the accusations and his supporters believe that the months of scandal mean he has little to fear from new revelations emerging to damage his reputation.
But many in Italy also feel he has been focusing on his legal battles rather than on problems such as a 30 percent youth unemployment rate that makes stories of teenagers taking home cash-stuffed envelopes particularly sensitive.
Outside the court, Milan resident Roberto Missiroli took a view increasingly typical of a jaundiced Italian public.
"Everyone seems to say what they want. But when you reach a certain level of power you can do pretty much what you want."
Date created : 2011-04-06