Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has lost a legal attempt to halt his pay-for-sex trial so he can concentrate on a general election campaign.
Judges deliberated for four hours before delivering their decision. They also ruled that they did not need to hear evidence from the young woman at the centre of the case, Karima el-Mahroug. Ms El-Mahroug, nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer, had appeared in court after having failed to show on two previous dates.
Berlusconi, who is heading a centre-right coalition in the February 24-25 elections, is accused of paying for sex with her when she was 17, and then trying to cover it up. Both deny sexual contact. Ms el-Mahroug had been the last witness, meaning a verdict could come before the elections.
Berlusconi's defence lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, had asked to suspend the proceedings, citing the demands of the election campaign. The prosecution opposed the request, arguing that Berlusconi is not the formal head of his party nor its official candidate for premier, and that he has infrequently shown up for trail anyway, as is his right.
In their ruling, the judges said Berlusconi's absences for a political campaign were a personal choice and could not be compared with having a parliamentary obligation - which has been accepted as a legitimate impediment that can allow a trial to be delayed.
Prosecutors had said they did not need Ms el-Mahroug's evidence, explaining they had what they needed from other evidence already submitted. Berlusconi's defence, which had originally called her as a witness, said they did not need her either.
Ms el-Mahroug's lawyer, Paola Boccardi, said her client was just "surprised that she wasn't heard."
Ms El-Mahroug looked relaxed, chatting with her lawyer. She wore a dark parka with fur trim, Ugg boots and carried a fashionable Louis Vuitton handbag.