Italy's prime minister is facing three court cases in quick succession. He already has dates in the dock in February and March, and prosecutors want an immediate trial on his alleged intimacies with an erotic dancer.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Wednesday that the investigations into his sex life were "disgusting." He accused prosecutors of acting subversively and dismissed their case as a pretext to oust him.
Berlusconi was reponding to the news that Italian prosecutors have requested that he stand trial over allegations he paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl and then used his influence to help her.
Prosecutors filed their request in Milan on Wednesday, saying their evidence was strong enough that a preliminary hearing would be redundant. A judge must now decide whether to accept the request.
"I can only say that it's a farce," Berlusconi told reporters. "The only aim of the inquiry is to defame me in the media."
Other trials in the pipeline
Just a day earlier a court in Milan set a fixed date of March 11 for the resumption of a bribery trial against Berlusconi.
The prosecutors in the sex probe allege Berlusconi paid for sex with Karima El Mahroug, a nightclub dancer from Morocco who used the stage name Ruby Heartstealer, while she was under 18, the legal age for prostitution in Italy.
They also assert that Berlusconi later used his influence to put police under pressure to release his young belle from custody when she was detained on theft allegations.
Ruby Heartstealer has acknowledged that the prime minister paid her 7,000 euros ($9,570), but she also says they never had sex.
Berlusconi, who says he has never paid for sex with anybody, acknowledges that he made a phone call on El Mahroug's behalf when she was in prison, but says he was only helping a person in need.
Paying a minor for sex carries a maximum sentence of three years in Italy, while abuse of political power is usually accompanied with a jail term of between six and eight years.
Ruby Heartstealer and Berlusconi admit to a relationship of sorts, but say they never broke the law
Bribery, tax evasion allegations
The plutocrat, politician and possible playboy is facing legal headaches that go well beyond his alleged private passions.
Berlsuconi’s court date in March will see him answer charges that he bribed his former tax lawyer to deliver false evidence.
Berlusconi is said to have paid lawyer David Mills 400,000 euros to lie in two separate court cases in the mid-1990s.
The case was dropped in April 2010, along with all investigations into the controversial prime minister, after Berlusconi passed a law rendering top-ranking politicians immune from prosecution for at least 18 months while in office.
The sex allegations have angered Italians more than past indiscretions
In January, Italy's Constitutional Court deemed that this immunity law was unconstitutional, allowing the trials to resume.
However, Berlusconi can still legally avoid a court appearance if key duties as prime minister, such as a diplomatic visit or a meeting of Italy's council of ministers, clash with the proposed appointment.
A second outstanding trial, linked to accounting and taxation irregularities within Berlusconi's Mediaset empire, is due to resume on February 28.
Berlusconi is no stranger to a courtroom, having been charged with corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties over the course of his career. To date, the self-made billionaire has always either escaped conviction altogether or cleared his name in an appeals court.
Author: Mark Hallam, Joanna Impey (AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler