Berlusconi sex trial ruling imminent

An Italian appeals court was set to issue a ruling Friday in the case against ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi for having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power.

Berlusconi was not present at the start of the hearing in Milan, where the panel of judges considering the case told the court it would issue its ruling at around 1100 GMT.

The disgraced billionaire tycoon is still serving out a sentence of community service at a centre for Alzheimer's patients near Milan following a prior conviction for tax fraud linked to his business empire, Mediaset.

Prosecutors have asked the judges to uphold the seven-year sentence for having sex for money with a then 17-year-old exotic dancer called Karima El-Mahroug, who is now better known by her stage name as "Ruby the Heart Stealer".

Berlusconi has also been convicted of pressuring the police while he was still prime minister to release her from custody when she was arrested for theft -- apparently out of concern that she could reveal their liaison.

If the conviction is upheld, the 77-year-old Berlusconi would have one more chance to appeal to the supreme court.

A supreme court confirming the conviction would mean Berlusconi is considered a repeat offender in the eyes of the law, which would exclude the possibility of community service and would lead either to house arrest or prison.