di Fausto Cicciò
Milan, January 21 - Judges in Milan on Monday said that the verdict of the trial into allegations ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage prostitute will not come until after next month's Italian general election. The court changed the trial's schedule with the last hearing set to take place on March 11. Italy's elections take place February 24-25. But the judges rejected a second defence plea to suspend the trial for the duration of the election campaign. They also turned down the defence's request to call George Clooney and Cristiano Ronaldo to testify. Testimony from the Hollywood actor and the Real Madrid striker was adjudged "superfluous" to the case. Berlusconi is accused of paying to have sex with a young Moroccan dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known as Ruby the Heart-stealer, before she was 18 during alleged Bunga Bunga sex parties at his home. Both the ex-premier and the woman deny ever having sex. She said money she received from Berlusconi was given as part of a gift. The defence wanted Clooney and Ronaldo to attest to the non-sexual nature of the three-time premier's parties. Last week the court rejected a first petition for proceedings to be halted while the 76-year-old media magnate leads his centre-right coalition's campaigning. Berlusconi argued he would be too busy campaigning and there was a danger of rivals exploiting the trial. Niccolo' Ghedini and Piero Longo, who are Berlusconi's lawyers and lawmakers for his People of Freedom (PdL) party, presented a fresh request for a suspension on Monday on the grounds that the trial also stopped them from campaigning. Berlusconi is also accused of abuse of office for allegedly having used his influence when he was premier to spring El Mahroug from a Milan police station to hush up the affair after an unrelated theft claim. The charge of having sex with an underage prostitute carries a jail term of up to three years, and abuse of office 12 years. The court set the next hearing for Monday, January 28, when Ruby's mother will testify for the defence. Judges in Berlusconi's appeals trial against a one-year conviction for tax fraud on film rights for his Mediaset TV group on Friday rejected a petition for that case to be suspended until after the election. But another trial into accusations Berlusconi was involved in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap has been put on hold. In the ongoing and several other previous trials, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a minority group of allegedly left-wing prosecutors and judges who he says are persecuting him for political reasons. Berlusconi has been tried some 30 times but has only been convicted three times - verdicts that were either timed out or overturned on appeal - prior to the Mediaset fraud verdict.