Magistrates to request immediate trial for Berlusconi
Wed, Feb 09, 2011
by Mathieu Gorse
MILAN, ITALY - Italian magistrates on Wednesday will request that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi face a fast-track trial over allegations he had sex with an underage girl and abused his powers to help her.
Berlusconi's women Photos: Reuters, various sources. Click on thumbnail to view.
Chief prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati and his fellow judges in Milan have finished an inquiry into allegations that the 74-year-old leader paid for sex with a nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart-Stealer, who was a minor at the time.
They allege that he also improperly used his power as prime minister to request that police in Milan release the Moroccan disco dancer after she had been picked up for alleged theft in May.
The magistrates, including feared mafia-hunter Ilda Boccassini, may have enough evidence to skip the preliminary hearings and ask for an immediate trial on both charges.
Bruti Liberati said the charges would be kept separate from the probe into starlet and television agents Lele Mora and Emilio Fede, and ex-oral hygienist Nicole Minetti, all under investigation for instigating prostitution.
Under Italian law, the fast-track procedure of summary judgement can be requested by the public prosecutor's office when there is clear evidence of offence.
Examining magistrate Cristina Di Censo will then have at least five days to come to a decision and could fix a start date for the trial for sometime in the coming months.
But should she decide the request lacks sufficient proof to warrant a speedy process, magistrates will then have to try to bring Berlusconi to trial through normal, more lengthy channels.
Di Censo will also have to decide whether the Milan court is competent to judge the case. Berlusconi's lawyers claim the prime minister can only be judged by a special court for members of parliament.
"The Milan court is violating the constitution," Niccolo Ghedini, one of the prime minister's lawyers, said Tuesday.
Should Di Censo give the Milan court the nod, Ghedini has said he will appeal and the motion will go to a vote in the Chamber of Deputies, where Berlusconi's center-right ruling party has the majority.
Ghedini and Piero Longo, Berlusconi's other lawyer, claim that the Italian leader did not abuse his power when he told police to release Ruby, because he believed she was the niece of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which was untrue.
Berlusconi had therefore been carrying out his duty by intervening to help a fellow leader and reduce diplomatic fallout, they say.
Despite ridicule from opposition parties who accused him of incompetence, Berlusconi's excuse was the persuading factor when parliament rejected a request last week from prosecutors to search his accountant's offices.
The probe into the prime minister's allegedly wild sex life was made public on January 14 just a day after a top court partially stripped him of political immunity.
The prime minister flatly refused to obey summons for questioning, claiming the Milan magistrates were not qualified to handle the case.
But with judges now deciding on a case-by-case basis if Berlusconi should appear in courtproceedings, the Italian leader may be forced to obey a summons should the case go to trial, if he cannot prove a legitimate impediment.
The billionaire business magnate has slammed the court probe into his relationship with Ruby as one more plot against him by the country's judges, claiming he has never paid for sex, let alone with minors.
Sordid details from wiretaps and allegations of orgies made the headlines for weeks but despite a media hounding and fierce condemnation from the Roman Catholic Church, the scandal appeared to have little effect on voters in January's polls.
But with his political immunity weakened, Berlusconi now finds himself facing old charges, including witness corruption and tax fraud.
A Milan court on Tuesday announced that the trial of the prime minister for alleged corruption of his former tax lawyer David Mills will resume in March. A second trial for tax evasion linked to Berlusconi's Mediaset empire will resume in February.
While he has never been definitively convicted so far, the prime minister risks three years in prison if found guilty of paying minors for sex, and from six to eight years for abuse of power. --AFP