[JURIST] An Italian judge on Tuesday ordered billionaire media mogul and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to stand trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor and abuse of power. Berlusconi allegedly paid 7,000 euros to then 17-year-old dancer, Karima El Mahroug, for sex and later called police to secure her release [BBC report] while she was detained on an unrelated suspicion of theft. Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing and lashed out at the charges, calling them groundless [Bloomberg report]. Judge Cristina di Censo announced the indictment against the premier, which included approving a request from prosecutors to expedite the trial [CNN report], which is set to begin on April 6 in Milan. The expedited trial skips the preliminary hearing and is approved in cases with overwhelming evidence. The prosecution has submitted [Daily Mail report] 782 pages of wire taps, intercepted text messages and bank details as part of the case. The trial will be heard by three randomly-selected judges [WP report], all women. Berlusconi’s legal team has argued that the judge does not have the power to order the trial of the premier.
Although not the first political scandal for Berlusconi, this recent fiasco has prompted widespread demonstrations and renewed calls for the premier to step down. Last month, the Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] held hearings and subsequently struck down [JURIST reports] portions of a law [materials, in Italian] backed by Berlusconi that would have granted the premier and other public officials temporary immunity from charges while in office. The court ruled in a vote of 12-3 to modify the law to allow up to a six-month postponement of charges, and gave the court the power to assess the severity of the charges in relation to how much they would disrupt state business. In October, Italian prosecutors launched a tax inquiry against Berlusconi [JURIST report] for tax declarations he made in 2003 and 2004 relating to the commercial broadcast company Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian], which Berlusconi founded. The investigation is the fourth time Berlusconi has faced allegations of fraud in relation to his Mediaset company. In addition to the trial for abuse of power and underage prostitution, Berlusconi faces three other ongoing judicial proceedings.