Prosecutors seek immediate trial of Berlusconi

Italian PM: Sex trial aims to discredit my gov't; premier is accused of paying for sex with a 17-year-old, using his power to cover it up.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
MILAN — Italian prosecutors demanded Wednesday that Premier Silvio Berlusconi be put on trial over accusations he paid for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan girl and used his influence to try to cover it up. The Italian leader blasted the "disgusting" action, saying it aimed to topple his government.
The prosecutors filed their request in Milan. They are seeking an immediate trial because they believe there is overwhelming evidence against the 74-year-old leader.
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A judge must now decide whether to accept the prosecutors' request and indict Berlusconi, or dismiss it. The decision is expected to be made in the next two weeks.
Berlusconi has a long history of legal woes and fierce battles with the Italian judiciary, which he accuses of being politically motivated against him. But this is the first action that targets his private life and not his business dealings as a media mogul, raising new questions over how long he can hold on to power.
The case centers on his relationship with the Moroccan nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby. Italian newspapers have been filled for weeks with salacious details about Berlusconi's parties at his villas, based on wiretaps of conversations between women who attended them.
"It's shameful, really," Berlusconi told reporters Wednesday in Rome, criticizing the prosecutors' move. "It's shameful and disgusting."
"I wonder who's going to pay for these activities that, in my humble view, only have a subversive aim," Berlusconi added, lamenting that the case had "offended the dignity of the country."
In Milan, dozens of his supporters rallied against the prosecution's decision, some waving Italian flags across the street from the courthouse.
The prosecutors allege that Berlusconi paid for sex with Ruby, who has since turned 18, then used his influence to get her out of police custody when she was detained for the suspected theft of €3,000 ($4,103), allegedly fearing her relationship to him would be revealed.
Ruby ultimately was released into the custody of a Berlusconi aide who also is under investigation.
Both Ruby and Berlusconi have denied a sexual relation.
The premier's supporters say he made the call to avoid a diplomatic incident because Berlusconi believed at the time that the girl was the niece of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. His defense maintains the case should be handled not by the Milan prosecutors but by a special tribunal set up to deal with alleged offenses committed by public officials.
The prosecution said in a statement they didn't believe the alleged crime was committed in the exercise of Berlusconi's institutional duties.
Berlusconi's legal worries also include several cases pertaining to his business dealings that are set to resume in the coming weeks, after Italy's Constitutional Court weakened a law that had temporarily shielded the premier from prosecution. Since the decision last month, court dates have been set in trials where Berlusconi is charged with tax fraud and bribery.
Another tax fraud case, but pertaining to more recent events than the ongoing Mediaset trial, will continue its preliminary hearing next month.
Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing in the many cases involving is media empire, and has always either been acquitted or seen the statute of limitations expire — something that is considered likely in the two trials now under way.
Berlusconi was elected at the helm of a conservative coalition in 2008 for a five-year term. In December, he narrowly won back-to-back confidence votes in Parliament.