Italy’s scandal-plagued Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is defiantly accusing prosecutors of trying to topple his government by seeking to put him on trial on charges he had sex with an underage prostitute and then tried to cover it up.
The sex scandal has splashed salacious details and allegations of wild parties at Berlusconi’s villas across newspaper front pages for weeks and drawn the ire of the Catholic Church.
Prosecutors allege Berlusconi, 74, paid for sex with the Moroccan girl, nicknamed Ruby, who has since turned 18, then used his influence to get her out of police custody when she was detained for the unrelated suspected theft of cash worth $US4,000.
They allege that he feared her relationship to him would be revealed. Ruby was released into the custody of a Berlusconi aide, who also is under investigation with two other confidantes.
Paying for sex with a prostitute is not a crime in Italy, but it is if the prostitute is under 18.
The age limit was raised from 16 in 2006 during a campaign against underage prostitution by a previous Berlusconi government.
Prosecutors are seeking an immediate trial – a sped-up procedure that would skip the preliminary hearing – because they believe they have sufficient evidence.
The have forwarded a 782-page document to Judge Christina Di Censo to back up their indictment request. Speaking at a news conference in Rome, Berlusconi said the prosecutors had “offended the dignity of the country” with a smear campaign and groundless allegations.
“It’s shameful, really. It’s shameful and disgusting,” he said of the prosecutors’ actions.
“I wonder who’s going to pay for these activities, which, in my humble view, only have a subversive aim,” Berlusconi added. Berlusconi said prosecutors had smeared not just his name but that of Italy.
He insisted he has only been at the service of his nation. Both Ruby and Berlusconi have denied having sexual relations, although she has said Berlusconi gave her $US9,550 on their first meeting.
The child prostitution charge carries a possible sentence of six months to three years; the abuse of influence charge, which experts say is more dangerous for Berlusconi, carries a possible sentence of four to 12 years.
In response to that charge, Berlusconi supporters say he made the call to Milan police only to avert a diplomatic incident because Berlusconi believed at the time that the girl was the niece of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
His defence maintains the case should be handled not by the Milan prosecutors but by a special tribunal set up to deal with alleged offences committed by public officials.
“I have intervened as prime minister, because I was worried that there could be an international diplomatic incident,” Berlusconi told reporters on Wednesday.
Di Censo, the judge, must now decide whether to dismiss the prosecutors’ request or go ahead with a trial – which would add to Berlusconi’s already substantial legal worries. A decision is expected within two weeks.