'Ruby' steals show at Berlusconi sex trial

Exotic dancer who Italy's former prime minister allegedly paid for sex appears in court but is not called to testify.

    The dancer at the centre of a sex trial against Italy's Silvio Berlusconi has appeared in court for the first time.

    The former prime minister's lawyers decided not to call Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, better known by her nickname as "Ruby the Heart Stealer", to testify on Monday.

    They said her testimony would have "interfered with the serenity of the electoral campaign" ahead of Italy's upcoming polls and asked to hear from six other witnesses instead.

    Prosecutors had already said they did not need El-Mahroug's court testimony, explaining they had what they needed from other evidence already submitted.

    Berlusconi stands accused of having sex for money with El-Mahroug on several occasions in 2010 when he was still prime minister and she was just 17.

    El-Mahroug failed to appear the first time she was called to testify and when she was called a second time her lawyer said she was in Mexico.

    Al Jazeera's Charlie Angela, reporting from Rome, said that El-Mahroug was "pounced" on by photographers as she arrived on Monday and that "the nation is eager to hear what she has to say".

    The age of consent in Italy is only 14, but sex with a prostitute who is under 18 years of age is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

    'Power abuse'

    Berlusconi, 76, is also accused of abusing his official powers by putting pressure on police to release El-Mahroug from custody when she was arrested for petty theft, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 12 years.

    His defence says Berlusconi was convinced El-Mahroug was a niece of Egypt's then-president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident.

    Berlusconi's lawyer had asked for the case to be suspended until after elections next month, but judges rejected that request after deliberating for four hours.

    "I never had an intimate relationship of any kind with her. "

    - Silvio Berlusconi

    Niccolo Ghedini, a member of Berlusconi's legal team, told the court the former prime minister would be too busy with the election campaign to follow the case or to attend hearings.

    Berlusconi denies having sex with El-Mahroug, saying that he gave her money so that she could set up a beauty parlour and avoid having to prostitute herself.

    "I never had an intimate relationship of any kind with her," he said in October in his second appearance at the trial which began in April 2011.

    "I was sure she was 24, as she herself said," Berlusconi said.

    The billionaire said there were never "scenes of a sexual nature" at the parties he hosted at his mansion near Milan, adding: "Everything happened in front of the staff and at times my children too came in to say hello."

    He said the soirees were "burlesque contests" and "elegant dinner parties".

    'Lap dances'

    According to transcripts of her questioning by investigators leaked in the Italian press, El-Mahroug said Berlusconi enjoyed lap dances from naked girls at parties that he called "Bunga Bunga", a term that has since become internationally famous.

    El-Mahroug has denied a liaison with Berlusconi but was recorded in a leaked telephone wiretap telling a friend that he had said to her: "Ruby I'll give you anything you want, I'll turn you into gold, just hide everything."

    She is a witness for the defence and is unlikely to give incriminating testimony against Berlusconi. Her comments are still eagerly awaited, however, and will help to determine when the trial will end.

    There are two other legal proceedings against Berlusconi, a trial for illegally leaking a telephone wiretap and his appeal against a conviction for tax fraud.

    He is unlikely ever to see the inside of a prison cell, however, since sentencing guidelines in Italy are very lenient for over-70s.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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