Female judges to decide fate of Silvio in sex trial
Silvio Berlusconi has been ordered to stand trial on charges of abuse of office and paying for sexual intercourse with an under-age prostitute. Three women judges will preside over his case.
A judge in Milan said the trial would start on April 6 after she ruled that there was ample evidence for the case to proceed without a preliminary hearing.
The 74 year-old Italian prime minister, who has faced more than 100 different cases but has never been definitively convicted, will not be required to appear in court or give evidence. But the ruling dealt him a severe blow at a time when he is reeling from splits within his coalition, falling voter support, a string of sex scandals and demands for his resignation.
Prosecutors allege that he paid for intercourse with Karima El Mahroug, a 17-year-old Moroccan-born erotic dancer who, they say, was working as a prostitute at the time of the encounters last year. She is one of a long list of young women who allegedly took part in so-called 'bunga bunga' sex parties.
Investigators further allege that the prime minister abused his office by personally telephoning a police station in Milan last May to have Ms El Mahroug released on unrelated theft charges.
Paying for intercourse with a prostitute who is under 18 is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail. The abuse of office charge carries a prison term of between four and 12 years.
Mr Berlusconi denies the charges and has justified making the call to the police station because he said he believed Ms El Mahroug when she told him that she was the granddaughter of Egypt's recently toppled ruler, Hosni Mubarak.
Since entering politics 17 years ago, Mr Berlusconi -- Italy's third richest man -- has faced trials on allegations of corruption, tax evasion and corporate malpractice, but this is the first time he has been indicted for conduct in his private life.
"Leave the premiership, let us not be the laughing stock of the world," said Alessandro Maran, of the opposition Democratic Party.
Mr Berlusconi's lawyers have questioned the investigators' right to bring the case and have said that it should be dealt with by the Ministers Tribunal, a special section of the magistracy that deals with accusations against ministers.
The Italian judiciary assigns judges to cases through a computer system intended to ensure that the selection is random. In this case, it selected three female judges, which court officials said was "ironic, but not out of the ordinary". (© Daily Telegraph, London)