Berlusconi's 'Heart Stealer' fined
The young Moroccan woman at the centre of Silvio Berlusconi's sex-for-hire scandal has been fined for failing to appear as a witness twice at the former premier's trial.
Karima el-Mahroug, also known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, was the last witness to be called in the trial that accuses Berlusconi of having paid for sex with her when she was 17, and then trying to cover it up. She has been ordered to turn up next month.
The court fined Ms el-Mahroug, who is in Mexico on holiday, 500 euros (£405)
Prosecutors have accused the defence, which called Ms el-Mahroug as a witness, trying to delay a verdict - which has included calling witnesses who have failed to show. Italian law does not carry particularly strict penalties against those who fail to appear, and in some cases the court may decide their participation is not essential.
Prosecutors are scheduled to give their closing arguments on January 28, followed by the defence on February 4.
That leaves room for the verdict to be delivered in February, just as Italy heads toward a national election. The 76-year-old Berlusconi has flirted with running again, but most recently has said he would step aside if premier Mario Monti, who runs a technical government that replaced Berlusconi's, decides to run as a moderate.
In a weekend interview, Berlusconi apologised for his now-infamous "bunga bunga" parties, saying he was lonely after having split from his second wife. Veronica Laria left him in 2008, citing alleged dalliances with young women.
"I need to apologise. It was a period when I was feeling alone. I was divorced, my mother was dead, my sister, too, my children were travelling around the world, and someone said to distract myself with some evenings," he said.
He also revealed he is engaged to a woman almost 50 years his junior, and says that "finally I feel less alone."
The media baron said his engagement to 28-year-old Francesca Pascale - who is part of a support group called "Silvio, we miss you" - is "official." Newspapers described his appearance on Canale 5 - one of his own television networks - as an attempt to boost falling approval rates ahead of the expected election.