Tue, Jul 19, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Milan court rejects request to relocate Berlusconi sex trial

NO SHOW:The Italian prime minister did not attend the hearing as he was set to meet with the president to discuss the new austerity package

Reuters and AFP, MILAN and ROME, ITALY

A Milan court yesterday rejected a defense request to move a sex trial against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to a special tribunal for ministers in Rome.

Berlusconi’s lawyers say the Milan judges are biased against him. His critics say he is trying to escape ordinary justice and would get a more favorable hearing in the tribunal. The final decision is due to be made by Italy’s constitutional court.

Moving the case would force prosecutors to start again from scratch, voiding a large part of their work on the case so far.

Berlusconi, 74, denies charges that he paid for sex with Moroccan teenager Karima El Mahroug, a nightclub dancer known by her stage name “Ruby the Heart Stealer.” He went on trial in April on charges he gave her cash and jewels in exchange for sex when she was 17. He is also accused of abusing his powers to cover up the affair.

The media magnate admits a fondness for young women, but denies having sex with Ruby and dismisses accusations of wild sex parties at his residence. The constitutional court ruled earlier this month that it could consider an appeal by the center-right controlled lower house of parliament, arguing that the ministerial tribunal in Rome should hear charges against Berlusconi of abuse of power, which are part of the prostitution case. The Rome court is expected to decide by the end of the year.

Berlusconi did not attend the Milan hearing yesterday as he was due to meet the head of state in Rome to discuss Italy’s next steps after passage of an austerity budget. Another hearing in a separate Berlusconi trial on corruption charges is also taking place in Milan.

Berlusconi faces is fighting off growing unpopularity and financial woes.

Berlusconi is a defendant in three ongoing trials.

He had been due to attend one of them, the corruption hearing in which he stands accused of paying a bribe to his former British lawyer, David Mills, to give false testimony in court.

However, he has since said he will not be present because of a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

The other hearing centers around allegations that Berlusconi had sex on several occasions at his villa last year with El Mahroug.

The prime minister is also suspected of abusing his powers by having the girl sprung from police custody when she was arrested in May last year for alleged theft — a move prosecutors say was an attempt to hide his sex crime.

He faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted of abuse of power.

Berlusconi has repeatedly protested his innocence of all the charges and insists that prosecutors are waging a personal vendetta against him.

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