ROME (AP) — A Milan judge on Saturday ordered Silvio Berlusconi to be tried on corruption charges, damping the former Italian premier's hopes of running soon for office again after being sidelined by a tax-fraud conviction.
The Italian news agency ANSA, reporting from Milan, said Judge Carlo Ottone De Marchi, after a hearing on an indictment request by prosecutors, set the trial to begin April 5 in that city.
Milan daily Corriere della Sera says the former three-time premier is accused of having shelled out some 10 million euros plus expensive gifts to some 20 young women who attended sexy parties at his Arcore villa near Milan. Prosecutors allege Berlusconi aimed to "buy" the women's silence in various trials involving him.
Berlusconi's lawyers have denied any wronging by their client. One of them, Federico Cecconi, told reporters Berlusconi faces "the first trial for the crime of generosity."
Berlusconi, 80, heads the center-right Forza Italia party, which is now in the opposition.
The latest indictment stems from an investigation into whether the payments constituted corruption in judicial proceedings or if the billionaire media mogul was legitimately helping the young women, who were invited to the so-called bunga-bunga parties at his residences.
Last year, a judge ordered a trial for Karima el-Mahroug and 22 others accused of accepting bribes and lying on the stand to protect Berlusconi in his trial on charges of having paid for sex with el-Mahroug when she was an underage teenager and he premier, and then using his influence to cover it up.
Berlusconi was acquitted in the sex-for-hire case on appeal.
His corruption case, which led to Saturday's indictment, had been separated from those of others due to his health issues.
A 2013 tax fraud condition forced him out of his Senate seat and left him barred from holding public office for the next few years.
Berlusconi has challenged the ban, bringing his case to the European Court of Human Rights. He was stripped of his office under a 2012 law preventing anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for at least six years.
Berlusconi says in his case, being stripped from office amounts to retroactive punishment, since the tax fraud case dates back before 2012.
A Italian national election is due in 2018. But it might be held later this year, after Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi resigned the premiership last month after a stinging defeat in a referendum on his reform agenda.