Milan

Berlusconi's lawyers demand acquittal in sex trial

'Convinced' Ruby was 'close to Mubarak'

Berlusconi's lawyers demand acquittal in sex trial

(By Denis Greenan). Milan, June 3 - Silvio Berlusconi's defence team on Monday asked a Milan court to clear the ex-premier of charges he paid for sex with an underage prostitute and abused his office to try to cover up the affair. Prosecutors have requested Berlusconi be sentenced to six years in jail for allegedly having sex with a Moroccan former dancer known as 'Ruby' before she was 18 and allegedly abusing his position to spring her from a police station after she had been detained on an unrelated theft claim in 2010 when he was premier. The sentence request is split into five years in prison for abuse of office and one year for paying for sex with the underage dancer, for a six-year total. Prosecutors have also called for Berlusconi to be banned for life from holding public office. Defence laywer Niccolo' Ghedini, who is also a lawmaker for Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, said the three-time premier should be acquitted because the alleged crime involving Ruby - whose real name is Karima El Mahroug - "does not exist". "The acts of a public official do not have to be considered a crime," Ghedini said referring to Berlusconi's intervention to remove Ruby from detention the night of May 27-28, 2010 to avoid an international incident because he was under the false impression that she was a relative of Egypt's then president Hosni Mubarak. "They can be (simply) human actions". Ghedini said his client did not ask police to accelerate procedures for Ruby's release from police custody on the night the underage Moroccan was held on a theft charge. On the abuse of office charge, prosecutors claim that Berlusconi, who was premier in 2010, phoned from a European leaders' meeting in Paris and pressured police in Milan to release Ruby after an acquaintance accused her of stealing 3,000 euros. Since she was under eighteen, a judge ordered the police to direct her to a shelter for juvenile offenders. On Monday Ghedini told the court Berlusconi was "convinced" Ruby was "close to Mubarak" and that was why he had allegedly mentioned her at a State luncheon with the former Egyptian leader in May 2010. Police released Ruby to Nicole Minetti, a Lombardy regional councillor, ex-aspiring showgirl and Berlusconi's former dental hygienist, who was accompanied by a Brazilian prostitute. Minetti and two other people, in a related trial, are accused of providing prostitutes - including Ruby - for parties a Milan prosecutor described as ''Bacchic orgies'' at the home of the ex-premier. The prosecutor on Friday requested that the defendants - Minetti, ex-TV anchor Emilio Fede and bankrupt talent scout Lele Mora - be sent to jail for seven years. Ruby and Berlusconi both deny they had sex and say the 4.5 million euros he gave her was a gift to help her set up a beauty salon, a dream she had had since escaping from an allegedly abusive Islam-enforcing father in Sicily. ''Silvio Berlusconi never asked to accelerate procedures. He only asked for a piece of information,'' Ghedini said in his defence argument on Monday. Police chief-of-staff Pietro Ostuni had already testified in court that he told the juvenile affairs judge, Giorgia Iafrate, ''to accelerate procedures, not Berlusconi'', Ghedini said. Ghedini added that Iafrate had said in deposition that she ''autonomously decided to entrust Ruby'' to the custody of Nicole Minetti, not under pressure from Berlusconi. Berlusconi, Ghedini maintained, spoke to Ostuni just once ''asking only for a piece of information''. Ghedini added, ''I don't know how one can claim a crime took place'' like the one Berlusconi is charged with, ''if not from a sociological point of view''. The media magnate's lawyer also reiterated its claim of bias against the Milan court and suggested the court had cosy relations with prosecutors. In several ongoing and 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. Last month Italy's supreme Court of Cassation rejected Berlusconi's petition for the sex trial and for an appeal against a four-year conviction for fraud at his media empire to be transferred to Brescia, saying claims of bias by Milan judges were "defamatory accusations". Ghedini, however, said the defence's position had not changed. "The impression is that I generate annoyance as the defence lawyer," said Ghedini. "The prosecution does not seem to generate a similar annoyance," added the lawyer, who said the judges shared "cultural closeness" to the prosecutors. "Rightly or wrongly, we consider the court prejudiced". Lead prosecutor Ilda Boccassini told the court last month that there was "no doubt" Ruby was a prostitute and had had sex with Berlusconi. The court is expected to announce its verdict on June 24.

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