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Silvio Berlusconi must face 'Heartstealer' trial

Judges in Milan do not excuse former Italian prime-minister Silvio Berlusconi, charged with paying for sex with underage dancer, from court despite upcoming Italian election. Prostitution charge had become known as the tycoon's 'Bunga Bunga' moment. Berlusconi denies wrong-doing. 

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Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gestures before the taping of the talk show 'Telecamere' at Rai television in Rome, January 11.

Remo Casilli/Reuters

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Italian judges today rejected a request by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to halt his sex trial until after a national election next month, but allowed the key witness to avoid giving testimony in open court.

The three judges dismissed Berlusconi's legal arguments that as head of the center-right coalition in the Feb. 24-25 election, his political commitments would mean he would not have time to attend the trial.

Mr. Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with a minor, and denies all charges. The trial's last session is currently scheduled for Feb. 4, meaning that a verdict could come before the election.

The nightclub dancer at the center of the case, 20 year-old Moroccan Karima El Mahroug, more widely known under her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", made a brief appearance in court, wearing a white mini-skirt and looking relaxed and smiling.

She left shortly afterwards when Judge Giulia Turri said that statements already given to magistrates would be sufficient evidence and she would not have to testify in open court.

With the election campaign now under way, the hearing has revived memories of the "Bunga Bunga" sex scandal that hung over Berlusconi's last months in office before he resigned in Nov. 2011 at the height of the euro zone debt crisis.

The 76-year-old media billionaire is accused of paying for sex with Mahroug when she was under the age of 18, a crime in Italy, and also for abusing his office to have her released from police custody in a separate theft incident.

The former runaway is alleged to have been one of the main participants in a series of notorious parties at Berlusconi's villa near Milan, where several young women have given accounts of lurid striptease shows.

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