Berlusconi's eye new source of contention at Ruby trial

Ex-premier skips hearing with health impediment

Berlusconi's eye new source of contention at Ruby trial

(by Denis Greenan). Milan, March 8 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's eye problem became a fresh cause of contention with prosecutors at his trial for allegedly paying a teenage prostitute for sex Friday. The lead prosecutor in the so-called Ruby case, Ilda Boccassini, asked judges to reject the three-time premier's request for a "legitimate impediment" to skip Friday's hearing even though he went to hospital for treatment. But it then became apparent that the eye condition was more serious than first thought and his personal doctor said he would probably have to stay in Milan's San Raffaele hospital overnight. The 76-year-old media magnate has uveitis, an irritation and swelling of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye. "It is not to be excluded that Silvio Berlusconi will stay in hospital tonight and tomorrow morning," said Dr. Alberto Zangrillo. In the end, the judges granted Berlusconi's 'legitimate impediment' plea and adjourned the trial until Monday. Earlier, Boccassini appealed to judges to reject Berlusconi's plea, saying "there has been an escalation of medical certificates recently". Boccassini was expected to wrap up her cross-examination of the defendant and deliver her closing arguments by the middle of the month, with a verdict to come soon after. Berlusconi and his supporters have accused Milan judges of continuing politically inspired prosecution with a flurry of verdicts slated to be handed down after the recent election, where Berlusconi came second. On Wednesday the first verdict, a guilty one carrying a one-year sentence, came in for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap about a bank takeover that embarrassed a centre-left leader in 2005. A Milan appeals court is also scheduled to rule later this month on Berlusconi's appeal against a one-year sentence for fraud in purchasing film rights for his Mediaset TV empire. In the Ruby case, Berlusconi is accused of paying a 17-year-old Moroccan-born nightclub dancer whose stage name was Ruby Heartstealer for sex after 'bunga bunga' parties at his villa in 2010, when she was 17 - under the legal age for prostitution in Italy, 18. He is also charged with subsequently abusing his position as premier to spring her from a police station where she was being held on an unrelated theft claim. After Thursday's conviction in the wiretap case, Berlusconi and his People of Freedom (PdL) party angrily reaffirmed they would fight alleged judicial persecution with street protests. This week the PdL said it would hold monthly "freedom square" protests, the first on March 23, to demonstrate against "concentric attacks" by prosecutors against Berlusconi. The move came after it emerged that Berlusconi was being probed in Naples for allegedly paying three million euros to Senator Sergio De Gregorio to switch sides from the centre left to the centre right. De Gregorio, who prosecutors say has admitted to receiving bribes, defected from the centre left during Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 government and eventually joined Berlusconi's party. "It's increasingly clear that there is an attempt to eliminate Silvio Berlusconi via judicial means, as attempts to do so via electoral and democratic ones have failed," said PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano. In the ongoing and several other previous trials, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of judicial persecution. 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 last year's Mediaset fraud verdict.

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