Berlusconi bid to halt sex trial rejected

An Italian court has rejected a request from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s defense team for his trial for underage sex to be suspended until after national elections in February.

Milan court turned down on Monday the request by Berlusconi’s legal team to halt the hearing during the election campaign. The elections are scheduled to be held on February 24-25.

The lawyers argued that the position of Berlusconi as leader of the center-right coalition campaigning for the elections constituted a legal impediment to his appearing in court.

The 76-year-old billionaire, who served as the country’s prime minister from 1994 to 2011, is accused of paying to have sex with Karima El-Mahroug, known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, in 2010 when she was 17.

Mahroug, now 20, also arrived to testify for the first time in the Monday court. She had missed the last two proceedings in December, saying she was on holiday in Mexico.

Berlusconi’s lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said the request to suspend the hearing was to prevent the proceedings from being “exploited” for political ends.

However, prosecutor Ilda Boccassini said, “I ask that this trial be allowed to go ahead because a trial cannot be suspended because of a campaign.”

Votes “are not a legal question to be considered by this court,” she added.

The court is expected to announce the verdict next month.

The prosecutors accused Berlusconi’s legal team of seeking to suspend the hearing to avoid a verdict before the upcoming national elections.

In November 2011, Berlusconi was forced to step down as prime minister after coming under immense pressure for mishandling the Italian economy.

Italy started to experience recession after its economy contracted by 0.2 percent in the third quarter of 2011 and by 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.