Prosecutors press for trial of Berlusconi over sex claims

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Prosecutors said yesterday that they will request a trial against Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, over accusations that he paid forsex with a 17-year-old girl and then used his influence to try to cover it up.

The prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati said he would file the request with the Milan court today, whenprosecutors would consider therequest on both accusations, and whether they would be tried separately or simultaneously.

Prosecutors allege that Mr Berlusconi paid for sex with a young Moroccan, nicknamed Ruby, who has since turned 18, and then used his influence to get her out of police custody when she was detained for the suspected theft of ¤3,000, allegedly fearing her relationship to him would be revealed. She ultimately was released into the custody of a Berlusconi aide who also is under investigation.

Supporters have never denied that Mr Berlusconi called Milan police over the incident, but have maintained that it was to avoid a diplomatic incident because Mr Berlusconi believed at the time that the girl was the niece of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Berlusconi himself said that he made the phone call out of the goodness of his heart.

Mr Berlusconi, 74, has been dogged by scandals related to his relationships with young women and parties at his villa. He denies ever having paid for sex and has accused prosecutors of seeking to drive him from office. Ruby has said they never had sex, though she says he gave her €7,000 on their first meeting and jewellery later.

Prosecutors have been considering a speedy trial for the abuse of power charge, which would skip the preliminary hearing phase if they believe there is overwhelming supporting evidence. But it is also possible that they would keep the two charges together.

Mr Bruti Liberati said last night that Mr Berlusconi's case has been formally separated from charges against three of the premier's aides accused of helping to procure the prostitutes. The move paves the way for the indictment requests today and suggests that prosecutors may be moving toward a speedy trial on at least one of the charges, because such cases must move toward formal charges within three months – Mr Berlusconi has been under investigation just since December, while the other charges date to September.

Prosecutors have alleged in documents forwarded to parliament that "a significant number of young girls have prostituted themselves with Silvio Berlusconi".