Berlusconi 'Rubygate' trial to go ahead despite election campaign

Tue, Jan 15, 2013, 00:00

Contrary to media expectations, Milan judges yesterday ruled that the “Rubygate” trial, in which former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi stands accused of “abuse of office” and “involvement in underage prostitution”, will not be suspended during the current general election campaign.

Mr Berlusconi’s defence team had argued that the media tycoon’s intensive campaigning represented a “legitimate impediment”, preventing him from attending yesterday’s hearing. Senior state prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, however, argued that since Mr Berlusconi was neither a national party leader nor a candidate for prime minister, his decision not to attend yesterday should not halt the trial. Judge Giulia Turri ruled in favour of the prosecution.

Inevitably, Mr Berlusconi’s defence team was critical of the ruling, with lawyer (and PDL deputy) Niccolò Ghedini commenting: “With this decision the court has intervened heavily in the current election campaign . . . This may yet have negative implications for the campaign.”

Defence witness

Karima “Ruby” El Mahroug, the 20-year-old Moroccan at the centre of this case, was in court yesterday in the role of defence witness. However, the defence requested that she be excused from giving evidence so as “not to disturb the election campaign”. Instead, the court agreed to accept statements previously made by her to investigating magistrates.

Last month, Ms Mahroug failed to present herself in court to give evidence, prompting prosecutor Boccassini to accuse the defence team of using delaying tactics. Given that the court’s calendar has scheduled three hearings between now and the February 24th-25th election, there is an obvious risk that the case will spill into the election campaign, something Mr Berlusconi is reportedly anxious to avoid.

It is even possible that the court could issue its verdict just days before the vote. Furthermore, many legal experts argue that, given the evidence so far presented in the case, that verdict is likely to go against Mr Berlusconi.