Silvio Berlusconi Trial Restarts in Milan
ROME – Billionaire media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, who has kept an unusually low profile since stepping down as prime minister 11 days ago, is back in the news Wednesday as his trial for paying a minor for sex and abuse of power restarted in Milan.
Since stepping aside and saying he would give conditional support to the new technocrat government headed by former European Commissioner Mario Monti, Berlusconi has been conspicuously far from the political spotlight in Italy.
Though Berlusconi was forced from office because of the growing impacts of the European debt crisis, it was his controversial and embarrassing political and personal scandals that robbed him of much of his support and weakened his grip on power. The sex trial that restarts Wednesday may be the most high profile of the open legal cases against him.
In this trial, the 75-year-old Berlusconi is accused to paying Karima el-Mahroug -- best known by her nickname “Ruby the Heart Stealer” -- for sex when she was 17. He is also charged with abuse of power for trying to help el-Mahroug get out of trouble when she was arrested for shoplifting by calling law enforcement and lying that she was the niece of then-Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. The abuse of power charge is the most serious of the two charges against Berlusconi in this trial, carrying a maximum prison term of 12 years.
Berlusconi has said he is innocent of any wrongdoing in the case under investigation in the trial, which could last for months.
Though Berlusconi has been out of the political spotlight since stepping down for office, he has not been completely inactive.
Italian newspapers report he has been busy meeting with the leadership at Mediaset, the broadcast, print, and cinema giant he controls, including strategy sessions over whether or not the company should up its stake in struggling reality television producer Endemol.
Additionally, Berlusconi was part of the release of True Love, a music CD in which the 1960s cruise ship singer co-wrote all the songs but does not sing.
Berlusconi and his allies in parliament have so far supported the Monti government in two key confidence votes, but they have indicated their support is conditional. If they withdraw their support, the lost votes in parliament would probably be less damaging to Monti than the criticisms Berlusconi could direct in Monti’s direction by using the Mediaset holdings used so effectively to mold public opinion and attack rivals during Berlusconi’s years in office.