Silvio Berlusconi to Stand Trial in Italy From April 6

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Italy’s media mogul prime minister has avoided prosecution on at least 17 previous civil and criminal charges.

 

ROME – Italy's media mogul prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, will stand trial starting April 6 in what is sure to be a blockbuster proceeding that will determine whether he is guilty of abuse of power and paying a minor for sex.

Berlusconi, who controls the Mediaset broadcast and film giant, has avoided prosecution on at least 17 previous civil and criminal charges since he burst onto the Italian political scene in 1994 -- either on technical grounds, on appeal, or because of statute of limitations rules.

During that time, he has yet to appear in court in his own defense. But that is likely to change this time around, after Italy's constitutional court in January stripped away key elements of a controversial immunity law that protected him from prosecution while in office.

Last week, prosecutors asked Milan Judge Cristina di Censo to allow for a fast track procedure that will make statue of limitations rules less relevant. On Tuesday, she agreed.

The April 6 court date is fast in terms of the Italian justice system, given that the investigation got underway only in December after allegation arose 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." She was 17 at the time.

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

Both Berlusconi and el Mahrough claim they have not had sexual relations.

Berlusconi's lawyers are expected to argue that the charges against him are groundless, that the Milan court lacks jurisdiction because the alleged crimes took place in Rome and Sardinia, and that, even if it did have jurisdiction, it lacks the authority to try a sitting prime minister.

In midday trading Tuesday, Mediaset shares were down 1.5% in heavy volume at €4.70 ($6.30).

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