The alleged teenage prostitute at the center of sex misconduct proceedings against Silvio Berlusconi will not be attaching herself to the case, it was reported on the trial's opening day.
Italy's prime minister is accused of paying for sex with Karima El Mahroug, an erotic dancer also known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, when she was 17 and under the age of consent according to Italian law. He is also charged with using his office to cover up his actions. Berlusconi has denied all charges.
A lawyer for Moroccan-born Karima El Mahroug, who has been called as a witness in the case by the defense and the prosecution, said the alleged escort would not be attaching herself to the case — even the move may have allowed her to seek damages from the 74-year-old billionaire.
The lawyer said such a move would have been at odds with her position that she had never had sex with the prime minister. According to the Guardian, the lawyer said: "The other reason for her decision is that Karima has always maintained she was never a prostitute, while this trial takes it for granted that she made herself available in return for payment."
Wednesday's brief hearing focused on formalities and the case was adjourned until May 31 when preliminary issues are expected to be discussed.
Actor George Clooney and Cristiano Ronaldo are among potential witnesses who may be asked to make an appearance.
If the court in Milan finds Berlusconi guilty, he could be sent to jail for up to 15 years. A sentence longer than five years and he would be barred from ever again holding public office. Berlusconi, meanwhile, sent a letter to the court saying he could not attend because of "institutional duties."
On Tuesday, wiretaps that record Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi discussing the age of a teenager he was allegedly paying for sex a day ahead of his trial over underage prostitution were widely reported.
The tapes also purport to reveal Berlusconi's plan to make his alleged "madam" a member of Italy's national parliament.
Berlusconi, 74, who has refused to turn up for the opening of the trial in Milan on Wednesday, was recorded discussing the age of Mahroug, who goes by the stage name Ruby the Heart Stealer, according to the Telegraph.
Prosecutors claim that Berlusconi paid Mahroug for sexual relations on 13 occasions when she was working as a 17-year-old escort — a year below the legal age for prostitution in Italy. Both have denied having sex with the other.
If the court in Milan finds Berlusconi guilty, he could be sent to jail for up to 15 years. A sentence longer than five years and he would be barred from ever again holding public office.
Berlusconi is also accused of using his influence and the office of the prime minister to cover up the relationship. A conviction could draw a sentence of 15 years in jail. A sentence over five years and he would be barred from ever holding office again.
Berlusconi will not appear at the court Wednesday, citing earlier commitments to attend ceremonies marking the two-year anniversary of an earthquake in central Italy that killed more than 300 people, according to the Associated Press.
Prosecution documents also list the names of 33 other young women who were paid to have sex with Berlusconi at infamous "bunga bunga" parties at his villa near Milan.
The parties were said to involve the presence of erotic dancers and underage prostitutes, a dinner comprised of foods in red, white and green — the colors of Italy's flag, and a "bunga bunga session," which according to Reuters "took place in a disco-like room where the female participants engaged in dressing up, striptease and erotic dances, touching each other or touching and being touched in their intimate parts by Silvio Berlusconi."
At the end of the evening, Berlusconi would choose "one or more women with whom he spent the night in an intimate relationship," in exchange for money, expensive gifts or rent-free apartments, Reuters reports.
Legal experts say the under age prostitution charge will be hard to prove because both he and Mahroug deny having sex.
Bologna law professor Carlo Guarnieri told the AP that convictions would require stronger evidence than what has been reported so far in newspapers. In the abuse of power case, prosecutors must prove that there was an implication of a threat of retaliation, he said.
"This is a case which is difficult to sustain in court. It is very likely that all these people involved will tell very different versions," Guarnieri reportedly said.
Wiretaps that allegedly place Ruby at Berlusconi's villa outside of Milan, as well as recordings of 43 would-be starlets who participated in the raucous parties, have been widely reported on.
But Berlusconi's own apparent conversations had not yet emerged until now.
One conversation, recorded on Aug. 1 last year, is said to be between him and Nicole Minetti, 25, an Anglo-Italian former showgirl who went from serving as Berlusconi's dental hygienist to becoming a member of the Lombard regional assembly representing Berlusconi's party. Minetti is under investigation along with two other people on suspicion of aiding and abetting prostitution, including juvenile prostitution, the Guardian reports.
Berlusconi reportedly tells Minetti: "Everyone is speaking so well of you, darling. Everyone. The [Northern] League people. Our people ... So then, when there are elections, you'll come into parliament."
Minetti also reportedly warns that a public prosecutor wants to question her about Berlusconi's relationship with Mahroug.
According to the transcript reported in the Telegraph, a worried-sounding Berlusconi allegedly says: "OK, what is important is that there are various people who can vouch for the fact that [Mahroug] gave an age different to her real one. Once that happens, there'll be nothing more to say. We just helped her because we took pity on her. Let's hope that it doesn't turn into a mess."