Italy's Berlusconi fails to have sex trial suspended

Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:58am EST
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By Silvia Aloisi

MILAN (Reuters) - Judges in Milan rejected a request by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday to halt his sex trial until after a national election next month, but allowed the key witness to avoid giving testimony in open court.

The three judges dismissed his lawyers' argument that his commitments as head of the center-right coalition in the February 24-25 election meant he would not have time to attend the trial.

Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with a minor, and denies all charges. The trial's last session is currently scheduled for February 4, meaning that a verdict could come before the election.

The nightclub dancer at the center of the case, 20 year-old Moroccan Karima El Mahroug, more widely known under her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", made a brief appearance in court, wearing a white mini-skirt and looking relaxed and smiling.

She left shortly afterwards when Judge Giulia Turri said that statements already given to magistrates would be sufficient evidence and she would not have to testify in open court.

With the election campaign now under way, the hearing has revived memories of the "Bunga Bunga" sex scandal that hung over Berlusconi's last months in office before he resigned in November 2011 at the height of the euro zone debt crisis.

The 76-year-old media billionaire is accused of paying for sex with Mahroug when she was under the age of 18, a crime in Italy, and abusing his office to have her released from police custody in a separate theft incident.

The former runaway is alleged to have been one of the main participants in a series of parties at Berlusconi's villa near Milan, where several young women have given accounts of lurid striptease shows.   Continued...

Karima El Mahroug, better known by her stage name "Ruby the heartstealer", gestures at Milan's court January 14, 2013. The young nightclub dancer at the centre of Silvio Berlusconi's sex trial arrived in court to testify on Monday but the former Italian premier's lawyer asked for the case to be suspended until after elections next month. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo