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'Mafia magistrate' to probe Berlusconi

For a man who likes to say he loves women, Silvio Berlusconi may make an exception for Ilda Boccassini, the crusading Milan magistrate who could yet convict him this year for sex offences.

Known as Ilda La Rossa (Ilda the Red), thanks to her flame-coloured hair and progressive sympathies, the Neapolitan-born veteran of mafia cases is one of a trio of Milan magistrates now investigating the Italian prime minister on suspicion that he paid to have sex with an underage prostitute. Mr Berlusconi is also accused of abusing his position to pressure police.

Ms Boccassini's determination to pursue the case has led her to request that, if the case comes to court, pre-trial hearings which slow Italian prosecutions to a crawl will be skipped, meaning that Mr Berlusconi may find himself in the dock as early as this summer.

The development is a serious blow to Mr Berlusconi, who had appeared to emerge relatively unscathed after allegations in 2009 of sleeping with another prostitute, Patrizia D'Addario. Although he was subsequently abandoned by his wife and involved in other scandals involving young women, a no confidence vote in the Italian parliament was defeated at the end of last year. But his government hangs by a thread and can ill afford another sex drama.

The investigation will examine allegations that Mr Berlusconi paid to sleep with a nightclub dancer, Karima El Mahroug, known as Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was 17, and subsequently had her freed from a Milan police station -- where she was being held on suspicion of theft -- by fooling officers into thinking she was the grand-daughter of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. If found guilty, the 74-year-old prime minister faces up to 15 years in jail.

Last week an Italian court ruling partly overturned a law shielding the prime minister from any trials he may face while in office.

Mr Berlusconi claimed last Friday that Ms Boccassini and her colleagues were "subverting the fundamental rules of democracy" and joked that they were "jealous" not to have been invited to the parties at his Milan mansion where he entertained Ms Mahroug and scores of other young women.

Details now released show investigators believe Mr Berlusconi's "Bunga Bunga" party guest list extended beyond Ms Mahroug to a regular cast of beautiful women he put up in apartments in Milan. Police raided the apartments last week seeking evidence of cash payments to the women to back up suspicions they were paid to have sex with Mr Berlusconi. Ms Mahroug admits to receiving €7,000 from Berlusconi, although she denies having sex with him. Tracing her movements through mobile phone records, investigators believe she attended six parties and was at Mr Berlusconi's villa last April during a visit by Vladimir Putin.

'Corriere della Sera' reported that residents included Iris Berardi, a former Miss Italy contestant, the twins Eleonora and Imma De Vivo, who have appeared in a TV reality show, and Ioana Visan, an escort previously recruited to attend Mr Berlusconi's Rome parties by Giampaolo Tarantini, the businessman who hired Patrizia D'Addario.

Another reported guest at the Milan parties, Alessandra Sorcinelli, is known for posing semi-nude on medical TV shows where doctors demonstrate massage techniques on her.

Investigators believe that the stable of women was run by Nicole Minetti, a dental hygienist and TV showgirl who rose to become a local politician in Milan after working on Berlusconi's teeth.

© Observer

Sunday Independent