ROME – An Italian court is expected to deliver its verdict on Monday on whether former premier Silvio Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage prostitute and abused his official powers.
Prosecutors in Milan have called for the three-time former premier to be banned from politics for life and serve six years in jail in a case which has embarrassed both Berlusconi and his allies.
While a guilty verdict would not mean prison – no sentence would be enforced until the appeals process has been exhausted – it could be a blow humiliating enough to weaken his political influence.
The trial relates to crimes allegedly committed in 2010 when Berlusconi, 76, was prime minister, and revolves around what prosecutors say were erotic parties held at his luxury residence outside Milan.
Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex on several occasions with Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, a then 17-year-old exotic dancer and busty glamour girl nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer."
But in what the prosecution considers a far more serious charge, he is also accused of having called a police station to pressure for El-Mahroug's release from custody when she was arrested for theft.
His defence claims he believed El-Mahroug was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident, but prosecutors say it was a bid to conceal their liaison.
They have called for Berlusconi to spend five years in jail for abuse of office, and another year for paying the dancer for sex after racy "bunga bunga" evenings in a basement room of his mansion.
Both the flamboyant billionaire and El-Mahroug deny having had sex and neither is expected in court on Monday.
The ageing party lover's fate lies in the hands of three female judges. Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini told the court in her summing up speech that El-Mahroug was "part of a prostitution system set up for the personal sexual satisfaction of the defendant."
She said the dancer quickly became the premier's "favourite" and had not admitted the relationship with him only because she had received as much as 4.5 million euros (US$5.8 million) from him.
El-Mahroug has proved an unreliable witness, admitting in May that she had lied to investigators about the parties – refuting her earlier claim that strippers had "bodily stimulated" Berlusconi – and saying she had invented the vast sum of money.
All that has done has convinced prosecutors she could also be lying about not having had sex with him.
Berlusconi has long blamed his legal woes on persecution by "Communist" judges, and any perceived "victory" on the part of the left could spark an explosive reaction from loyalists.
The former cruise ship singer has been under investigation or on trial ever since entering politics in the 1990s after a career in construction and the media.
A Milan court last month upheld his conviction for tax fraud, confirming the punishment of a year in prison and a five-year ban from public office which is frozen pending a second appeal.
Three of Berlusconi's friends – a show-business agent, a former network anchor and a former regional assemblywoman – are on trial on pimping charges in a separate trial linked to the case.
Prosecutors in Naples have also requested a trial against Berlusconi on allegations that he bribed a left-wing senator with three million euros to join his party and topple a past centre-left cabinet.
Even if definitely convicted in any of the trials, Berlusconi is unlikely ever to see the inside of a prison cell because of lenient sentencing guidelines for over-70s.AFP