Saturday 20 January 2018

Silvio fights to move sex trial

Lawyers argue 'Rubygate' should be judged before parliamentary body

Colleen Barry in Milan

PRIME MINISTER Silvio Berlusconi's lawyers fought to get his under-age prostitution trial moved out of the criminal courts yesterday as the embattled Italian leader fought for his political future.

Mr Berlusconi is facing an unprecedented crisis after suffering a heavy defeat in the country's local elections. Yesterday his lawyer argued that the Italian leader was convinced the Moroccan teen at the centre of the scandal, Karima El Mahroug -- better known by her stage name Ruby the Heart Stealer -- was indeed the niece of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he tried to get her out of trouble last May, and therefore was acting within his official duties and should be judged by a parliamentary body.

The trial resumed after a two-month break and the morning after late-night celebrations marking the defeat of Mr Berlusconi's candidates for mayor in his northern stronghold of Milan and Naples.

The results revealed a weakened Italian leader and heightened the impression that he is too distracted by his legal woes to govern effectively. Mr Berlusconi was in Romania on a two-day state visit, and did not attend the trial. But he was eager to combat any impression that the election defeats posed a political threat to his governing coalition.

"I had a meeting to schedule my funeral, but I am too busy in the coming days so we'll have to delay it," he joked with journalists in Bucharest.

In court, Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, argued Mr Berlusconi's call to police to get a Moroccan teen out of custody was aimed at avoiding a diplomatic incident.

Mr Ghedini is trying to persuade the court that the Council of Ministers and not the Milan criminal court is the correct venue for the trial, since Mr Berlusconi was acting in his official business. The calls to release the teen are the basis of a charge that Berlusconi used his influence to cover up criminal acts.

Prosecutors -- and the judge who ordered a speedy trial without a preliminary hearing -- have rejected the argument, saying he was trying to hide his relationship with the Moroccan teen, who was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters at his villa near Milan.

Irish Independent

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