ROME — Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s request for a delay of his criminal trial tied to charges of abuse of power and paying for sex with a minor was rejected by judges hearing the case in Milan.
The judges announced the decision after four hours of deliberation. Berlusconi’s lawyer Niccolo Ghedini made the request today, saying the trial could interfere with the campaign for the Feb. 24-25 parliamentary elections.
Karima El Mahroug, the woman at the center of the trial, was due to testify for the defense. El Mahroug — who danced in nightclubs under the stage name Ruby Heart Stealer — was 17 years old in February 2010, when she says she attended at least one party at Berlusconi’s mansion near Milan.
Berlusconi, a 76- year-old billionaire, has denied ever paying for sex and said he thought she was 24.
The defense team also dropped their request for El Mahroug to testify, meaning she won’t respond to questions today.
Berlusconi probably won’t face immediate incarceration, regardless of the verdict, said Andrea Castaldo, a professor and lawyer who isn’t working on the case.
Italian law allows people convicted of criminal offenses to remain free pending appeal and softens penalties on those aged 70 or older.
“We’re talking about sexual acts with a minor and diversion of institutional powers,” said Castaldo, who teaches criminal law at the University of Salerno. “It’s clear that we’re talking about serious things. But as far as practical effects, I think it will take some time.”
Trailing in Polls
Berlusconi is seeking to overcome a deficit in public- opinion polls in his bid to propel his coalition to victory in elections on Feb. 24-25.
Berlusconi resigned as premier in November 2011 after failing to protect Italy from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. In October, he was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison.
Berlusconi, appealing the tax verdict, has denied the charges in the pending criminal case. In addition to the allegation of paying for sex with an underage woman, Berlusconi is accused of abusing his power as premier when he called Milan police on her behalf after her arrest.
The call was a request for information, Berlusconi has testified.
After the call, El Mahroug was released into the custody of a politician of Berlusconi’s party in Milan.
El Mahroug has denied having sex with the former premier, while acknowledging that he gave her money. She said in an interview with television network Sky TG24 last year that Berlusconi had given her 7,000 euros ($9,135) to help her through a difficult situation.
Berlusconi told journalists last year that he gave her 57,000 euros to help her set up a business and avoid prostituting herself.
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