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Ruby wants her day in court

Alleged prostitute to ex-premier vows protest Thursday

03 April, 20:13
Ruby wants her day in court (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Genoa, April 3 - The young Moroccan woman known as 'Ruby' at the centre of a sex scandal that has put Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on trial said on Wednesday she will stage a protest in front of the Milan court where hearings have been taking place to make her voice heard. Karima El Mahroug, who will arrive in front of the courthouse Thursday at 10:30 am Italian time, told ANSA that she wants "to protest not being heard during hearings" that carry her name.

"I don't understand the reason and I intend to say so publicly," El Mahroug said. The former nightclub dancer and alleged prostitute accused of selling sex to Berlusconi failed to show up to testify when called in December. Her lawyer told presiding judges that her client was vacationing abroad with her partner and child and would be available to testify in January. In January, El Mahroug appeared in the Milan court, but in a surprise move judges upheld a request by the defence to not demand her testimony. Instead the judges agreed to rely on statements El Mahroug made to investigators in the case.

In March, judges in Milan suspended Berlusconi's trial until April 22 while the supreme Cassation Court considers a ruling on a motion to move the case to a court in Brescia on alleged grounds of biased judges. Both Berlusconi and El Mahroug have denied having sex during one of the ex-premier's so-called Bunga Bunga parties while she was underage. 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, saying she was the niece of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

The charge of having sex with an underage prostitute carries a jail term of up to three years, and abuse of office 12 years.

Berlusconi's lawyers have also asked for the ex-premier's appeals trial in Milan, which regards a four-year conviction for tax fraud on film rights involving his Mediaset television empire, to be moved to Brescia on the same grounds of alleged judicial bias. If claims of judicial bias are upheld in Italy, trials are moved to the nearest big city. Brescia is 82 km (51 miles) east of Milan. Ruby's planned demonstration would not be the first surrounding Berlusconìs trials. The three-time premier's People of Freedom (PdL) party staged a controversial demonstration inside the Milan courthouse last month and say they are planning another one to support claims the alleged campaign of persecution has been stepped up after Italy's recent general election. The protest came after judges ordered a second medical check for the centre-right leader, who said an eye condition and high blood pressure that left him hospitalized made it impossible to appear in court. A recent poll said a third of Italians agree with the media tycoon's claim that allegedly left-wing magistrates have been trying to hound him out of politics since he became premier in 1994. Berlusconi has insisted he will not meet the same fate as his one-time sponsor and personal friend, late premier Bettino Craxi, who was driven from power by anti-corruption probes and died in self-imposed exile in Tunisia in 2000. The centre-right leader, whose burgeoning TV empire was shielded by Craxi in the 1980s, has accused Milanese magistrates of trying to bring him down as they did his controversial predecessor. As well as the Ruby and Mediaset trials, Berlusconi is under investigation on suspicion of bribing former Senator Sergio De Gregorio to switch parties in 2006, a move which destabilized the centre-left government and hastened its collapse in 2008. In another case, a Milan judge on March 7 sentenced him to a one-year jail term for involvement in the publication by his family newspaper Il Giornale of an illegally obtained wiretap concerning Italian insurance company Unipol's almost-successful bid to buy Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in 2005. The wiretap severely embarrassed then centre-left leader Piero Fassino. Berlusconi is appealing the ruling.

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