Italy court to rule in May on Berlusconi trial venue change

Italy's top court postponed Thursday its decision on whether to uphold an appeal by Silvio Berlusconi's defence team to move two trials involving the former premier to another city.

The Supreme Court accepted a request from the defence to postpone the Thursday hearing because the billionaire's lawyers -- who are members of parliament -- were tied up in a vote to elect the country's next president.

The hearing was set for May 6.

The former premier's lawyers have appealed for a case in which Berlusconi is accused of having sex with an underage prostitute to be transferred from Milan to a nearby city where they argue he will get a fairer trial.

They have accused several Milan judges of "creating a hostile environment" around their client and, using a 2003 law passed under Berlusconi's government, have requested the sex trial and an appeal of a tax fraud conviction be moved to Brescia.

Both trial and appeal have been suspended pending the court's decision on the possible venue change.

The media baron, now 76, is accused of having sex for money in 2010 with the then 17-year-old Karima El-Mahroug, an exotic dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer.

Berlusconi risks up to three years in prison on that charge and up to 12 years for allegedly putting pressure on police to have her released from custody when she was arrested for petty theft.

In October, the three-time premier was sentenced to a year in prison and handed a five-year ban from holding public office for fraud linked to his business empire Mediaset, but the punishment has been suspended during the appeal process.