Berlusconi to Stand Trial on Underage Sex Charges
by Theunis Bates from http://www.aolnews.com
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been ordered to stand trial on charges of abuse of power and paying an underage Moroccan girl for sex. The 74-year-old billionaire, who denies any wrongdoing, could face 15 years in prison if convicted.
Examining judge Cristina Di Censo said proceedings would start April 6, after prosecutors in Milan asked for an immediate trial. On hearing the news, the premier’s lawyers said, “We didn’t expect anything else,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to stand trial on charges he paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl and then tried to cover it up.
Berlusconi has routinely accused “communist” prosecutors of trying to destroy him since he entered politics in 1994. He has described himself as “history’s most persecuted man” and claims that he’s been targeted in 105 probes and trials, faced 2,500 court hearings and spent more than $400 million in legal fees. But prosecutors have never been able to make their charges stick, and the media mogul — who owns several Italian newspapers and TV networks — has won two elections while under investigation.
However, while previous cases have focused on his business affairs, this is the first time Berlusconi has been tried for his personal conduct. He has called the charges against him “disgusting” and “groundless.”
Prosecutors allege that Berlusconi started to pay an underage prostitute, Karima el-Mahroug, who went by the nickname Ruby the Heart Stealer, for sex when she was 17. Although prostitution is legal in Italy, having sex with a prostitute under 18 is a crime, punishable by a maximum jail term of three years. It is expected that Berlusconi’s legal team will argue that the young Moroccan belly dancer is older than indicated on her official documents.
El-Mahroug was allegedly a regular attendee at parties held at the premier’s mansion near Milan. Dozens of women, including numerous call girls and exotic dancers, were also present at these events, prosecutors claim.
Berlusconi’s supporters say these were “peaceful, elegant” dinners, filled with intelligent banter and beautiful music. But prosecutors say they have testimony proving that the meals descended into bacchanalian sex- and alcohol-fueled “bunga bunga” orgies.
A former glamor model, whose telephone calls were tapped by the police, reportedly described how women dressed as nurses and police officers stripped and rubbed themselves against the premier and his cronies. It was a “scene of desolation, cheap vulgarity, a caricature; he really is sick,” she said, according to a transcript cited by The Telegraph.
Mahroug — who has since turned 18 — has told police she did not sleep with Berlusconi. But she admits that the prime minister paid her $9,700 the first time she attended a party last spring. The belly dancer says Berlusconi handed her the cash after she told him about her money problems. The belly dancer’s former roommate, however, has told prosecutors that she confessed to having a sexual relationship with the premier.
Berlusconi’s involvement with Mahroug is alleged to have continued after the parties ended. Last May, she was arrested on suspicion of stealing $4,200 from a friend and held at a Milan police station. Officers should have handed the Moroccan minor over to local care workers, who would have housed her while officers investigated the charges. But according to prosecution documents, Berlusconi phoned a senior official working for Milan’s police chief and requested that Mahroug not be released to social services.
She was then handed over to Nicole Minetti, an ex-dental hygienist and showgirl who attracted the attention of Berlusconi and was elected to an Italian regional parliament earlier this year. Minetti has since been placed under investigation on suspicion of supplying prostitutes for Berlusconi’s parties. She denies any wrongdoing.
If the phone call took place as prosecutors claim, Berlusconi may have abused his position — an offense under Italian law that carries a jail term of up to 12 years.
His supporters argue that the prime minister made the call because, at the time, he believed the girl was the niece of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and he was keen to avoid an international incident. Prosecutors say Milan police had already established that Mahroug was the daughter of Moroccan immigrants living in Sicily.
This latest legal development is sure to fuel growing calls for the scandal-hit leader to step down. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of women waving placards reading “I am not for sale” and “We like sex, not bunga bunga” marched through towns and cities across Italy, protesting against Berlusconi’s alleged involvement with prostitutes and glamor models. (Several of those women have since been handed political positions.)
The premier shrugged off the women’s protest, saying they had been lied to by left-wing activists. “Every woman that has had the opportunity to know me knows my regard for them. I have always behaved with the greatest attention and respect towards them,” Berlusconi said, according to AFP. “I have always made it so that every woman feels, how should I say, special.”
But Berlusconi’s party-hard lifestyle is fueling discontent across the political spectrum. The country’s most senior Roman Catholic bishop, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, said late last month the premier’s antics suggested that “cunning, social climbing, showing off and selling oneself” was the only way young Italians could get ahead in life. And a recent opinion poll for Italian TV revealed that 61 percent of respondents thought Berlusconi should resign, while just 33 percent wanted him to stay in office.
There is now mounting suspicion that an early election might be called in the coming months, as Berlusconi’s coalition — which has a slim majority in parliament — could splinter as more allegations of sleaze surface during the trial. But on Monday, reports Reuters, the prime minister said he was confident he has enough support in parliament to see out his full term until 2013.