Berlusconi sex trial hearing delayed for TV interview

Italian judges on Monday accepted a request to postpone a hearing in Silvio Berlusconi's sex trial on the grounds that the former premier was due to attend an election campaign television interview which prevented him from being in court.

The decision marks a minor victory for the media magnate, whose defence team has been fighting hard to get the trial starring an exotic dancer nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer" totally suspended until after the February 24-25 poll.

Berlusconi said the interview with LA7 television could not be postponed and it had been the show's producers who had decided on the schedule.

The next hearing will take place on February 11, the judges said. A verdict is not expected until after the election.

Berlusconi, who is accused of paying for sex with Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug in 2010 when she was just 17, has been gaining ground in the election race largely due to a heavy mediatic campaign and is keen to keep stories of his wild dinner parties out of the newspapers.

While the billionaire has launched his sixth election bid in two decades, he is still mulling whether to run for the post of prime minister or settle for another post within his centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Berlusconi faces up to three years in prison on the sex charge and is also accused of abusing his official powers by pressuring police to release El-Mahroug when she was arrested -- a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 12 years.

His critics have said the 76-year-old billionaire is only running for office to stay out of jail.