Silvio Berlusconi Trial: Italian Judge Denies Request for Delay for Upcoming Elections

Silvio Berlusconi - Political Plans and Legal Charges
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Italian media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has often been seen as the teflon media mogul - always facing legal and other charges, but never really facing consequences. In Oct. 2012 though, a court sentenced the head of media group Mediaset, whose stock has been dropping amid weak ad trends, to four years in prison in a tax evasion case - marking the first time he is facing time behind bars. And just before Christmas, prosecutors also called for a prison sentence of at least one year for Berlusconi on charges of publishing information about a political rival that was obtained illegally. The three-time prime minister, meanwhile, announced he would run for a fourth term in early 2013 after having left political office in late 2011.

Ruby the Heart Stealer, the exotic dancer the media mogul is alleged to have paid for sex when she was 17, appeared in court to testify Monday.

ROME – Attorneys for billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi on Monday filed a request -- which was quickly denied -- to delay the ongoing abuse of power and underage sex trial on the grounds that the 76-year-old was leading an electoral coalition in elections scheduled for next month.

The request came as Karima el-Mahroug, a Moroccan-born exotic dancer best known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, who Berlusconi is alleged to have paid to have sex with him when she was 17, appeared in court to testify for the first time. In Italy, prostitution is legal, but only if the girl in question is at least 18.

Berlusconi is also charged with abuse of power in the case, stemming from allegations he called police officials to try to get el-Mahroug off on shoplifting charges but inaccurately claiming she was the niece of Hosni Mubarak, who was president of Egypt at the time.

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Berlusconi is no stranger to legal troubles: in October, he was sentenced to four years behind bars for tax evasion, and in December prosecutors in a wire tap case asked for at least one year in jail for his role in that scandal. Berlusconi’s lawyers are appealing the tax fraud decision, while the wire tap case is ongoing.

Berlusconi has denied wrongdoing in all the cases.

In the case involving el-Mahroug, Berlusconi's lawyers claimed he is too occupied with leading his center-right coalition in the upcoming Feb. 24-25 vote, meaning the case should be delayed. But the judge quickly denied the request and ordered the trial move forward.

Berlusconi is the head of one of the three major coalitions in the elections, along with incumbent Mario Monti and center-left challenger Pier Luigi Bersani, a former minister.

Berlusconi has faced multiple civil and penal charges over the last two decades, but until the tax fraud case had never been successfully found guilty of any charges. He says the charges against him over the years are politically motivated. In the past, he has escaped prosecution often because cases were delayed until the statute of limitations ran out, or on technical grounds.

Berlusconi is one of the world’s richest media tycoons. Through the Mediaset giant he founded, Berlusconi owns or controls three national television networks in Italy and one in Spain, plus a major cinema production and distribution house, a major ad buyer and several print media outlets.

Berlusconi in December announced plans to marry Francesca Pascale, a Neapolitan woman 49 years his junior.