Berlusconi's latest trial could decide his political fate

16:31, February 10, 2011      

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A person walks at the entrance of Milan's court February 9, 2011. Italian prosecutors filed a request on Wednesday to bring Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to trial immediately over the prostitution scandal that has rocked his centre-right government. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
Italian prosecutors on Wednesday filed a 782-page request making the case that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is guilty of abusing the power of his high office and of paying for sex with a minor. Many in Italy say the outcome of the case may decide Berlusconi's political fate.

Berlusconi has faced at least 17 official criminal and civil allegations since he first entered Italian politics in 1994. But this time things could be different, as pollsters say the accusations are resonating with a weary Italian public, and the case appears to be well-constructed to make a conviction more likely.

The investigation got underway in December on allegations that the 74-year-old prime minister paid for sex with a Moroccan-born cabaret dancer named Karima el Mahrough, better known by her stage name "Ruby." She was 17 at the time.

Prosecutors also alleged that Berlusconi tried to use his influence to have el Mahrough released from prison, where she was held on charges of theft.

Berlusconi reportedly lied to police by claiming that el Mahrough was the niece of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and that they should release her in order to avoid a diplomatic crisis.

In Italy, the age of consent in regard to sexual relations is 14, and prostitution itself is not illegal.

But paying for sex with a minor, which in Italy refers to anyone under the age of 18, is a crime punishable by up to three years in jail. Both Berlusconi and el Mahrough deny sexual relations, though el Mahrough admits Berlusconi did give her money.

The abuse of power allegation is even more serious, carrying the penalty of up to 12 years behind bars.

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