UK & World News

  • 14 January 2013, 20:54

Silvio Berlusconi Fails To Get Trial Delayed

The belly dancer who Silvio Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex when she was underage has been told she no longer has to attend his trial.

Lawyers for the former Italian Prime Minister made a late submission asking that Karima el-Mahroug, also known as Ruby The Heart Stealer, be dismissed.

The 20-year-old Moroccan had shown up at the courtroom in Milan having previously failed to turn up twice.

Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with Ms El Mahroug when she was underage and then trying to cover it up. She was said to be 17 at the time. Both deny sexual contact.

Ms El Mahroug had been due to appear as a witness for the defence, but Berlusconi's lawyer announced they no longer needed to hear her evidence.

Judges hearing the trial agreed, but decided the 76-year-old's trial would have to go ahead, despite his lawyers asking for it to be postponed.

They deliberated for four hours before delivering their decision.

The former Italian premier's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, had filed a motion to suspend the proceedings shortly after they started, saying it was impossible for his client to defend himself properly while he was involved in an election campaign.

Italy is in the middle of a campaign to choose a new government. Berlusconi is leading the centre-right wing People of Freedom party (PDL) and would become Prime Minister again if the party won.

Mr Ghedini said he wanted "to avoid the possibility of the trial influencing the campaign", as any development would have repercussions in the media.

Because Ms El-Mahroug had failed to attend court previously, there were fears she would not turn up for her latest appearance.

But just before the hearing got under way in at Milan's Central Court, she arrived with her lawyer wearing a dark coat with fur trim and carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag.

She had to fight her way through a jostling scrum of photographers in order to get into the court.

Ms El-Mahroug was due to be the last witness to testify. Because she now doesn't have to, a verdict could come before the two polling days on February 24 and 25.

She had previously told her lawyer she could not attend because she was on holiday in Mexico. The prosecution alleged her earlier absence was a "stalling tactic" aimed at delaying the verdict.

Berlusconi faces up to 15 years in jail if he is found guilty. However, he is entitled to two appeals, which could take several months or even years. Those over 70 are also less likely to face prison.

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