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Posted by on Feb 15, 2011 in International | 0 comments

Italy’s Berlusconi Will Face Trial on Underage Prostitution Charges

Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been ordered to stand trial in April in an underage prostitution scandal that comes against a past backdrop of allegations involving his attitude towards women, current demonstrations by women who want him to resign, and a growing rebellion within his political party — which polls show now has 27.02 percent support.

A Milan judge on Tuesday ordered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial in April on charges of paying an underage nightclub dancer for sex and abusing his office to help release her from police custody when she was detained for theft.

The fast-track trial is expected to begin on April 6, according to a statement released by the Milan judge.

Mr. Berlusconi denies wrongdoing. After the decision on Tuesday, he did not appear at a scheduled news conference in Sicily, where Italy is seeking to stem a flow of more than 5,000 illegal immigrants from Tunisia.

Ever since prosecutors announced last week they would call for an expedited trial, saying they had enough evidence to waive preliminary hearings, Mr. Berlusconi has fought back in the media, accusing the judiciary of a “moral coup” against his leadership.

The prime minister said on Monday that he would not step down, and his center-right coalition, which governs with a narrow majority, has stood by him, even as a growing number of Italians are growing weary of his leadership. As the crisis wears on, no one has ruled out early elections before his mandate ends in 2013.

The president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, who has the power to dissolve Parliament and call early elections, said on Tuesday that the growing showdown between the executive and the judiciary posed “reasons for anxiety,” Italian news media reported.

On Sunday, thousands took to the streets in Italian cities and worldwide in coordinated demonstrations that organizers said were aimed at restoring the dignity of Italian women amid the latest sex scandal and after years in which Mr. Berlusconi has routinely appointed television showgirls to political office.

Here’s a Euronews report on the demonstrations:

It should be an interesting trial: Berlusconi will be judged by a panel of three women:

Giulia Turri, Orsola De Cristoforo and Carmen D’Elia were named today as the judges who will preside over the April 6 trial in Milan. Turri, for one, is no stranger to tough cases. In 2009, she presided over a trial in which two managers at Google Inc. were acquitted of tax-evasion charges. Last July, she ordered house arrests as part of a high-profile investigation into cocaine use and trafficking at some of Milan’s most fashionable night clubs.

“In the court we have wonderful judges and most of them are women,” Giuseppe Vaciago, an independent criminal lawyer in Milan, said in a telephone interview. “So this is not so strange, but it is a bit ironic.”

The trial will probe Berlusconi’s relationship with Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub performer nicknamed Ruby Heart Stealer who attended a party at his Milan mansion last February when she was 17. The abuse-of-power charge stems from his role in helping secure El Mahroug’s release from police custody in Milan after her detention in May on unrelated theft charges.

The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno writes:

Basta the bunga bunga.

One needn’t be bilingual to get the drift. It’s Italianese: Enough with the orgies, the Lolita prostitutes and the old satyr rutting.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been notoriously leading with his Johnson — Giovanni? — for years, growing increasingly sybaritic and scandalizing as he approaches his 75th birthday, unapologetic and defiant and counter-thrusting as always.

“Bunga bunga’’ has entered the Italian lexicon as slang to describe Berlusconi’s debauchery, shouted in war-type by those newspapers that aren’t part of the premier’s vast, privately owned media empire. But where Egypt’s youth-led revolt succeeded in bringing down a dictator, the democracy that is Italy appears incapable of rousting this aging creep.

He pays for the company of underage girls. He throws lavish bacchanals at his palazzos — likened to brothels — from Rome to Milan and a hideaway villa in Sardinia. He’s being divorced over his alleged dalliances with jailbait. He uses political muscle to intervene in police investigations. He champions bodacious TV presenters, starlets and beauty pageant contestants for public office.

And he deploys a government official — ex-showgirl, formerly the dental hygienist who polished his teeth — as a de facto pimp, allegedly tasked with corralling compliant girl-flesh for Berlusconi’s wild parties and stashing them in handy rent-free apartments.

Later in her column (which should be read in full) she concludes:

Every day seems to flush out more dirt on Berlusconi’s purported sexual depravities. Prosecutors have amassed hundreds of pages of wiretap conversations; at least one escort has turned over secretly recorded audio and videotapes of her encounters with the old coot. There’s apparently a lively black market out there in cellphone photos of a naked Berlusconi surrounded by nubiles.

Still, his approval rating has slipped only from 40 to 35 per cent in opinion polls and only 13 per cent believe his career is over if it’s proven he paid for sex with underage prostitutes.

There just might be bungee bounceback in bunga bunga after all.

Here’s a BBC timeline on Berlusconi, who has been Italy’s prime minister since 2008.

Meanwhile, the clamor in Italy continues for his resignation.

I predict Berlusconi will stick it out for another year.