• Berlusconi’s sex trial verdict due

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    ROME: An Italian court was expected to deliver its verdict on Monday on whether former premier Silvio Berlusconi paid for sex with “Ruby the Heart Stealer,” an underage prostitute, and abused his official powers to favor her.

    Prosecutors in Milan have called for the magnate to be banned from politics for life and serve six years in prison in a case, which could trouble Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s uneasy grand coalition government.

    While a guilty verdict would not mean prison—no sentence would be enforced until the appeals process has been exhausted—Berlusconi could decide to pull the rug from under the government if he feels it is not offering him the legal protection he seeks.

    The center-right and left coalition relies on the support of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.

    “If the verdict is guilty on all counts, hard, without mitigation, no-one can bet on what Berlusconi’s reaction will be,” said Paola Di Caro, editorialist for the Corriere della Sera daily.

    “Among his closest allies, there are those who swear that, deep down, Berlusconi thinks Letta’s government is over,” he added.

    The trial relates to crimes allegedly committed in 2010 when Berlusconi, 76, was prime minister, and revolves around what prosecutors say were erotic parties held at his luxury residence outside Milan.

    Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex on several occasions with Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, a then 17-year-old exotic dancer and busty glamour girl nicknamed “Ruby the Heart Stealer.”

    But in what the prosecution considers a far more serious charge, he is also accused of having called a police station to pressure for El-Mahroug’s release from custody when she was arrested for theft.

    His defense claims he believed El-Mahroug was the niece of former-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident, but prosecutors say it was a bid to conceal their liaison.

    They have called for Berlusconi to spend five years in jail for abuse of office, and another year for paying the dancer for sex after racy “bunga bunga” evenings in a basement room of his mansion.

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