Berlusconi lawyers storm out over refusal to stop sex trial

Ex-premier's party calls on head of state to intervene

Berlusconi lawyers storm out over refusal to stop sex trial

(see related stories on Berlusconi) Milan, February 1 - Silvio Berlusconi's defence lawyers stormed out of the trial into allegations the ex-premier had sex with an underage prostitute on Friday after the court rejected their petition to suspend proceedings because of Italy's election campaign. Berlusconi is leading the centre right's campaign for next month's elections and two of his defence lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, are lawmakers for the media magnate's People of Freedom (PdL) party who are again standing for parliament. The defence team had said a hearing scheduled for Monday should be postponed because election commitments constituted a "legitimate impediment" to them being present and called for the whole trial to be suspended until after the vote. It is third time the court rejected a request from Berlusconi for the trial to be suspended. PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano called on Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and the judiciary's self-governing body, the Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM), to intervene. "We in the PdL consider the Milan Court of Appeal's decision scandalous," Alfano said. "They want to impede the head of the centre-right coalition from conducting the election campaign because the hearings schedule is such that it paralyses both Berlusconi and his lawyers who are candidates. "The magistrates are committing dirty tackles with their procedural decisions". 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. 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 also 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.

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