Italy PM Berlusconi's lawyers want sex trial moved

Reuters News
Posted: May 31, 2011 4:30 PM
Italy PM Berlusconi's lawyers want sex trial moved

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial on charges he paid for sex with an underage prostitute and abused his power to cover it up should be moved to a special ministerial tribunal, his lawyers said on Tuesday.

Berlusconi, on an official trip to Romania and fresh from a stinging defeat in local elections, did not attend the trial's second hearing in a Milan court, which his lawyers argue has no right to preside over the case.

Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing in the case, which centers on accusations that he paid to have sex with Moroccan-born teenager Karima El Mahroug, a nightclub dancer known by the stage name of Ruby.

He is also accused of telephoning Milan police officers last May to have her released from custody when she was detained over theft allegations.

Berlusconi says he did not have sex with El Mahroug. He has acknowledged making the phone call to police, in which he said El Mahroug was the granddaughter of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but says he did not exert any improper influence.

The trial, the most sensational of four cases faced by Berlusconi, opened last month under huge media scrutiny but was immediately adjourned.

In Tuesday's hearing, Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said the 74-year old prime minister was "clearly and undeniably convinced" that El Mahroug was Mubarak's relative, adding that a number of witnesses could prove this.

Ghedini said that if the charges against Berlusconi were that he abused the power of his office by calling the police, then he should be tried by a special tribunal for ministers and not by an ordinary court.

Berlusconi accuses the Milan prosecutors of being politically motivated leftists bent on driving him out of power, and says he will not have a fair trial if they are allowed to press ahead with the case.

The Ruby scandal and three other corruption trials have weighed on Berlusconi's popularity and analysts say they were a factor in his unexpected defeat in this month's local polls.

Results on Monday after run-offs were held showed Berlusconi's center-right coalition losing control of his stronghold of Milan, Italy's financial capital, as well as a string of other cities.

(Reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro, writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Ralph Boulton)