Scandal-plagued premier Silvio Berlusconi defiantly accused prosecutors of trying to topple his government by seeking to put him on trial on charges he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and then tried to cover it up.
The sex scandal has splashed salacious details and allegations of wild parties at Mr Berlusconi’s villas across newspaper front pages for weeks and drawn the ire of the Roman Catholic Church.
Though no stranger to legal cases, this is the first judicial action against the three-time premier and media billionaire to impugn his personal conduct, rather than his business dealings.
The case raises questions about Mr Berlusconi’s ability to govern effectively under mounting legal pressure, and comes at a time when he has been weakened by a fight with an ex-ally.
Prosecutors allege Mr Berlusconi, 74, paid for sex with the Moroccan girl, nicknamed Ruby, who has since turned 18, then used his influence to get her out of police custody when she was detained for the unrelated suspected theft. They allege that he feared her relationship to him would be revealed.
Ruby was released into the custody of a Berlusconi aide, who also is under investigation with two other confidantes.
Paying for sex with a prostitute is not a crime in Italy, but it is if the prostitute is under 18. The age limit was raised from 16 in 2006 during a campaign against underage prostitution by a previous Berlusconi government.
Prosecutors are seeking an immediate trial – a sped-up procedure that would skip the preliminary hearing – because they believe they have sufficient evidence against the premier. The have forwarded a 782-page document to Judge Christina Di Censo to back up their indictment request.
Speaking at a news conference in Rome, Mr Berlusconi said the prosecutors had “offended the dignity of the country” with a smear campaign and groundless allegations. “It’s shameful, really. It’s shameful and disgusting,” he said of the prosecutors’ actions. I wonder who’s going to pay for these activities, which, in my humble view, only have a subversive aim,” Mr Berlusconi added.
Mr Berlusconi said prosecutors had smeared not just his name but that of Italy. He insisted he has only been at the service of his nation.