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House to vote Thursday on authorising Ruby search

Trial request for premier to be made later this week

31 January, 16:08
House to vote Thursday on authorising Ruby search (ANSA) - Rome, January 31 - The House will vote on Thursday whether to authorise a search of the offices of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's accountant in a probe into whether the premier paid an underage Moroccan dancer and alleged prostitute called Ruby for sex.

Caucus whips said the House would start examining the request from Milan prosecutors at 15:00 on Thursday.

A vote is expected at around 19:00 and will be shown live on TV, parliamentary sources said.

Last Thursday a House panel recommended turning down the request and sending back two huge dossiers backing it to the prosecutors.

The prosecutors filed the dossiers earlier this month, unleashing a media frenzy over leaked wiretap transcripts detailing alleged goings-on at Berlusconi's villa outside Milan.

The panel voted 11-8 that the case should have been submitted to a special tribunal for ministers. This was because the second allegation in the case, that the premier abused his power in getting Ruby out of police custody, was connected to Berlusconi's public office and not his private activities.

Berlusconi telephoned Milan police after Ruby was detained for an unrelated alleged theft on May 28 and allegedly asked for favourable treatment since she was the granddaughter of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a claim she had made to him.

Ruby, whose real name is Karima El Mahrouga and who was 17 when she went to Berlusconi's villa, says the premier never laid a finger on her and money she received from him was a gift.

The premier denies having sex with her or any member of an alleged stable of young prostitutes whose phone records were taken as part of the probe.

Berlusconi says he is in a steady relationship with someone who would never have allowed the reported sex parties.

He claims Milan prosecutors are trying to bring him down.

Jucicial sources said Monday the prosecutors would file a request for the premier to come to "immediate" trial later this week.

Nicole Minetti, a former showgirl and the premier's ex-dental hygienist who is now a Lombardy regional councillor and took Ruby from police after the May scrape before handing her over to a Brazilian prostitute, was questioned Sunday by prosecutors who say she was one of three people who procured prostitutes for the premier.

Judicial sources said Monday the questioning session had been "exhaustive" and Minetti would not be called on again.

Minetti exercised her right not to answer questions about the girls staying in free housing in a classy Milan district built by Berlusconi in the 1970s, or about her own role in the case, sources said. Berlusconi has been struggling to put the scandal behind him and on Monday issued a call to the centre-left opposition for a bipartisan pact for economic growth, but was rebuffed by opposition leaders who said it was "too late".

The opposition has been calling on the premier to stand down but he has vowed to fight on and enact key reforms, starting with federalism.