Silvio Berlusconi's Sex-for-Hire Case on Fast Track in Italian Court

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

Silvio Berlusconi's judicial woes weighed on Italy's political future on Monday as prosecutors in Naples requested an accelerated trial of the former premier on corruption charges, and Milan judges in his sex-for-hire trial ordered a medical visit to certify his ailments.

The judicial jockeying comes at a politically sensitive time for Italy, as it seeks to form a stable government following inconclusive national elections February 24-25.

Democratic Party leader Pier Bersani, whose forces finished first in the lower house vote, has ruled out an alliance Berlusconi's center-right coalition, which finished second. But Bersani's options are limited as comic-turned-political leader Beppe Grillo, whose movement finished third, refuses to align with any major party. Talks will begin March 20, after Parliament convenes Friday and votes in leaders of both houses.

Berlusconi has been seeking to have the two trials postponed due an eye condition for which he has been hospitalized since Friday. Judges in Berlusconi's tax fraud appeal continued with Saturday's hearing after court-appointed doctors said his ailments were not severe enough to keep him from court.

Another court on Monday ordered a new medical visit to verify the severity of his ailments after his defense lawyers submitted three medical certificates, citing the eye inflammation and a heart problem to support a new delay request.

Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini had been scheduled to wrap up her closing arguments in the trial in which Berlusconi, 76, is charged with having paid for sex with an under-age Moroccan teen and using his influence to cover it up.

Giovanni Orsina, a professor of political science professor at LUISS, said the intensifying judicial attention on Berlusconi at such a delicate movement has negative consequences on the political process "whatever you think of whose fault it is."

The situation makes it even more difficult for Bersani to consider any sort of political agreement with the center-right, limiting his options, while further polarizing Berlusconi supporters who see him as a persecuted figure, Orsina said.

Berlusconi has long complained that he is the target of a judicial campaign, citing many trials mostly in Milan and mostly related to his business dealings.

He was convicted in October of tax fraud related to the purchase of the rights to air Hollywood movies on his television networks. Prosecutors in the appeals trial are seeking to uphold the four-year sentence, which includes a five-year ban on public office.

A verdict is due in coming weeks in both the appeal case and the sensational sex-for-hire trial.

Angelino Alfano, the head of Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party, said the pressure to conclude the cases is "an attempt to eliminate Silvio Berlusconi by judicial means, having failed by electoral or democratic measures."

Berlusconi also faces fresh accusations in Naples that he paid a senator €3 million ($3.9 million) to defect to his party, significantly weakening the previous government of Romano Prodi. Prosecutors are seeking an accelerated trial that skips the preliminary hearing stage because they believe they have overwhelming evidence.

In yet another case, Berlusconi was convicted last week of breach of confidentiality for the illegal publication of wiretapped conversations by a newspaper he owns.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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