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Prosecutors seek immediate Berlusconi trial

February 9, 2011

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, Published: February 9 2011

Prosecutors in Milan have requested an immediate trial for Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, on the separate charges of paying for sex with an alleged teenage prostitute and putting pressure on police to release her from custody last year.

The Milan judge, who received the prosecutors’ submission on Wednesday following a seven-week investigation, has about five days to decide whether to accept that there is enough evidence to proceed with charges against Mr Berlusconi without a preliminary hearing.

Mr Berlusconi, 74, and Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer known by her stage name of “Ruby”, both deny the prostitution allegations. The prime minister denies abusing his authority in calling a Milan police station last May when Ms Mahroug, then 17 years old, was detained on suspicion of theft.

“I want to know who is paying for this rubbish and disgrace,” Mr Berlusconi told a news conference in Rome at the end of a cabinet meeting when asked for his response to the prosecutors’ submission. He accused the magistrates of being “subversive” and rejected the allegations as groundless.

The prime minister’s lawyers also argue that the Milan court does not have the juridical competence to proceed with the case, which should be transferred to a special court for ministers.

Should the Milan judge agree to the prosecutors’ request to proceed without a preliminary hearing, then Mr Berlusconi could face three trials in coming weeks following decisions by Milan courts to resume two separate cases against him on charges of tax fraud and corrupting his former UK lawyer, David Mills, to give false testimony.

Mr Berlusconi denies wrongdoing in all the cases and accuses “communists” within the judiciary of waging a witch hunt to topple him. The Constitutional court ruled last month that Mr Berlusconi could not endlessly use the excuse of official engagements to avoid trial hearings, prompting the government to push for fresh legislation that would keep him out of the courts.

In spite of the mounting pressure on Mr Berlusconi and his slim majority in parliament, Italy’s opposition has proved incapable of forcing the prime minister to resign but has managed to block key legislation.

While prosecutors led by Edmondo Bruti Liberati submitted their files in Milan on Wednesday, the cabinet met in Rome to demonstrate business as usual by launching a new series of economic reform proposals, including fiscal incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises. Giulio Tremonti, finance minister, has said the proposals do not involve additional government expenditure.

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