Sat, Feb 05, 2011 - Page 4 News List

Italian parliament backs Berlusconi in sex scandal

STILL HANGING ON:The vote was considered a significant demonstration of the prime minister’s grip on parliament despite the loss of a key ally last year

AP, ROME

Italy’s parliament rebuffed a request by prosecutors to search some of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s properties as part of a prostitution investigation targeting him.

Parliament on Thursday rejected the prosecution requests in a 315-298 vote that came after a four-hour debate in the lower house. They sent the case back to the prosecutors, challenging their jurisdiction. Berlusconi has denied wrongdoing.

Milan prosecutors allege Berlusconi paid for sex with a minor and then used his office to cover it up. They wanted to search the offices of a Berlusconi accountant, Giuseppe Spinelli, who allegedly handled payments on behalf of the prime minister to the minor as well as other payments to a number of young women who attended parties at his villas.

The vote will likely have limited impact on the investigation. Magistrates are planning to go ahead with their probe and are expected to issue a request to indict Berlusconi as early as next week.

However, Thursday’s vote was a significant victory in a test of Berlusconi’s grip on parliament. His once comfortable majority became shaky after he fell out with an ally last year, and he barely survived a pair of confidence votes in December.

“The vote assures the majority that it still has the numbers to go ahead, however narrowly,” said Francesco Verderami, a political analyst for Corriere della Sera.

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