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Berlusconi to face vice investigation

January 14, 2011

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, published: January 14 2011

Silvio Berlusconi has been placed under investigation on suspicion of paying for sex with a teenage nightclub dancer and for abuse of office by intervening with police when she was detained last year.

Prosecutors in Milan said Italy’s 74-year-old prime minister was advised on Friday of the inquiry and asked to appear for questioning next week.

Police searched premises including the home of Karima el Mahroug, a Moroccan who was 17 when she first hit the headlines last October with accounts of “bunga bunga” games at the billionaire’s parties.

Allies of the prime minister accused the judiciary of waging a political vendetta, noting that news of the probe emerged a day after the constitutional court issued a ruling that could lead to the resumption of trials involving Mr Berlusconi on corruption and tax fraud charges related to his media empire.

Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the opposition Democrats, asked how long Italy’s economic problems would be sidelined by Mr Berlusconi’s personal troubles after earlier controversies involving a prostitute and a teenager from Naples.

Commentators said the likely outcome was continued political deadlock with neither side wanting to risk elections at this point.

Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers, both MPs, said the inquiry was “absurd and groundless” and an “unprecedented intrusion” into his private life”. They denied that he had sex with the teenager, known by the stage name of Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby Heartbreaker).

Mr Berlusconi’s young dental hygienist, whom he promoted into politics, and two elderly television personalities are involved in the probe on suspicion of abetting prostitution. They have denied wrongdoing.

Ms Mahroug’s relationship with Mr Berlusconi acted as a catalyst last year to failed efforts by rebels in his own party to bring down the government after it emerged he had called Milan police on May 27 on learning she was being on suspicion of theft.

He has said he only called to inquire after the girl, believing her to be a relative of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president. The interior minister has denied Mr Berlusconi abused his powers to get the girl released into the care of Nicole Minetti, the hygienist.

Before news of the inquiry broke, Mr Berlusconi told a television channel he owns that he was being persecuted.

Ms Mahroug has said she was invited to a party in February with nine other young women at Mr Berlusconi’s villa where he gave her €7,000 and a necklace. She denies they had sex.

Opinion polls show the government’s ratings sliding. Mr Berlusconi, whose coalition survived a no confidence motion by just three votes last month, vowed to keep going. “Italy needs everything but elections. Italy needs continuity and stability,” he said.

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