Italian premier's sex trial opens, adjourns

The trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on charges of sexual misconduct and abuse of power opened Wednesday in Milan and almost immediately was adjourned until May 31.

It was one of the most anticipated courtroom events in Italy's history, including testimony allegations of orgy-like parties at Berlusconi's villa and phone-tap transcripts featuring females who were said to be paid handsomely to entertain male guests.

It began with an anticlimactic 10-minute hearing.

The defense witness list of high-ranking friends, ministers, members of Parliament, television personalities and actors is said to include George Clooney, who owns a villa nearby on Lake Como.

Neither Berlusconi nor Moroccan performer Karima El Mahroug, known by the stage name Ruby Rubacuori, or "Ruby the Heart-Stealer," was present.

The 74-year-old premier is accused of paying for sex with Mahroug last year, when she was 17, a year under the age for legal prostitution in Italy. News reports of so-called bunga-bunga parties at Berlusconi's villa in Arcore, outside Milan, describe them as feasts that included striptease and sexual acts.

The premier has always protested his innocence, denying having sex with her and saying she lied about her age.

He is also charged with making phone calls to Milan police in May 2010 to release her from arrest on suspicion of stealing more than $4,000, claiming she was related to then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Berlusconi says he was convinced that she was related to Mubarak and was trying to avoid a diplomatic incident.

Berlusconi, who accuses the Italian judiciary of being politically motivated, also faces other trials for corruption, fraud and embezzlement related to his activities as a media entrepreneur.

Wednesday's hearing came a day after Parliament voted by a narrow margin in favor of moving the trial to a special ministerial court rather than the Milan court, prompted by the charges of abuse of power. However, the decision is not expected to affect the trial until it is confirmed by the Constitutional Court, Reuters news agency reported.

Press coverage of Wednesday's trial was limited to newspaper and agency reporters; television cameras, which are normally allowed into Italian courtrooms, were kept outside.

The Italian news agency ANSA quoted Mahroug's lawyer, Paola Boccardi, as telling the court that his client would not be claiming damages as she "did not suffer any damage for going sometimes to Arcore, neither from frequenting the prime minister."

Boccardi also said the charge of prostitution contradicted "what Karima has always said, that she was never the object of sexual acts on the part of the prime minister … she has always affirmed that she is not a prostitute, while this trial takes it for granted that she gave herself in return for payment."

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