Prosecutors file charges against Berlusconi

Updated: 2011-02-09 20:35


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ROME - Italian Prosecutors on Wednesday formally requested trial for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on charges of abuse of power and paying for sex with a minor, charges that could lead to 15 years in jail.

Prosecutor Edmundo Bruti Liberati officially filed the application Wednesday in Milan, starting the clock ticking on the five days for Judge Cristina di Censo to decide whether a trial has merit.

Prosecutors have requested a fast-track trial, which will limit the arguments on both sides but also make it less likely that the statute of limitations will expire before a decision can be made.

Di Censo will have three options: she can grant the request for the fast-track trial; she can dismiss it to call for a deeper investigation into whether any wrongdoing actually took place; or she can decide that her court does not have jurisdiction.

The third option is the tact Berlusconi's lawyers are taking, charging that the alleged crimes are alleged to have taken place in Rome and Sardinia and not in Milan and that, in any case, the Milan court does not have the authority to try a prime minister.

The investigation got underway in December on allegations that the 74-year-old Berlusconi paid for sex with a Moroccan-born cabaret dancer named Karima el Mahrough, best known by her stage name "Ruby,"  who was 17 at the time.

Prosecutors also allege that Berlusconi tried to use his influence to have el Mahrough released from prison, where she was being held on theft charges.

Berlusconi reportedly lied to police to claim that el Mahrough was the niece of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and that they should release her in order to avoid a diplomatic crisis.

Both Berlusconi and el Mahrough deny sexual relations, though el Mahrough admits Berlusconi did give her money.

The trial is expected to get underway around mid-year, the Italian press reported.

Because of a decision from Italy's top court to strip away most protections in a controversial immunity law that would have prevented criminal investigations into Berlusoconi and other top leaders, it is possible that Berlusconi will be required to appear in court on these latest charges.

If it does, it will be the first time a sitting Italian prime minister was required to appear before a judge to answer such accusations.


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