Court rejects Silvio Berlusconi's request to delay underage sex trial
The former prime minister must face sex charges ahead of general election
An Italian court yesterday turned down a request from former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's defence for his trial for underage sex to be suspended until after February elections.
A Moroccan-born exotic dancer at the centre of the case, however, will not be testifying after Berlusconi's lawyers said they were taking her off their list of witnesses for the defence.
Berlusconi, who has launched his sixth election bid in two decades, is accused of paying for sex with Karima el-Mahroug in 2010 at his mansion near Milan when she was 17 and he was the prime minister.
The 20-year-old, who used the working name "Ruby the Heart Stealer", would have been testifying in the Milan court for the first time.
Judges said her written testimony, in which she referred to wild "Bunga Bunga" parties hosted by Berlusconi, will still be considered in the case.
Court attendance by Mahroug had been in doubt after she missed two previous hearings in December saying she was on a long holiday in Mexico.
Making his request for the trial to be suspended, lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said this was to avoid the proceedings being "exploited" for political ends.
But prosecutor Ilda Boccassini said: "I ask that this trial be allowed to go ahead because a trial cannot be suspended because of a campaign."
Italians take to the polls on February 24-25 and the trial is headed for a verdict next month.
Prosecutors have accused the defence of deliberately trying to draw out the trial to avoid a verdict before the general election.
Berlusconi has risen in the ratings since taking to the airwaves with his campaign but some observers say a conviction could end his career.
He faces up to three years in prison on the sex charge because the age of consent in Italy is 14, but sex with an under-18 prostitute is a crime.
He is also accused of abusing his official powers by pressuring police to release Mahroug when she was arrested for petty theft - a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 12 years.
His defence says Berlusconi thought Mahroug was a niece of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident.
Berlusconi, 76, denies having sex with Mahroug.