Silvio Berlusconi aims to defend himself in court

The Italian PM, who stands accused of paying a minor for sex, hopes to defend himself in person at trial

By Frances D'emilio
Published March 5, 2011 2:53PM (EST)
Silvio Berlusconi       (AP/Riccardo De Luca)
Silvio Berlusconi (AP/Riccardo De Luca)

Silvio Berlusconi, who faces trial for allegedly paying for sex with an underage Moroccan teenager, will defend himself in court, as long as the Italian premier doesn't have to show up more than once a week, his lawyer said Saturday.

Niccolo Ghedini told reporters outside a Milan courtroom that the defense has asked the head of Milan's court to schedule hearings for Mondays. Berlusconi is defending himself in the prostitution case as well as in separate trials involving dealings stemming from the billionaire's business empire.

"The premier considers it opportune to show up in person to defend himself," Ghedini said. Italian law leaves it up to the defendant whether they want to show up in court during trial.

"We have asked the court to set aside Mondays" on its calendar for Berlusconi's various trials, the lawyer said. "It's the most you can expect. For a premier, one day a week is no small thing," Ghedini said, insisting Berlusconi was making the "maximum effort" to be available.

Ghedini was awaiting the start of a preliminary hearing for Berlusconi in a case stemming from the sale of film rights by one of the premier's media companies. Because of a technicality, that hearing was put off till March 28.

The most sensational trial against Berlusconi, set to begin on April 6 in Milan, sees the premier defending himself from charges he improperly used his government office to try to cover up an alleged paid sexual encounter at his private villa near Milan with a then 17-year-old nightclub dancer who goes by the nickname Ruby.

Berlusconi has denied ever paying for sex. He has insisted that in the Ruby case, as well as in several past and current criminal probes and trials against him, he is the innocent victim of prosecutors he contends sympathize with the opposition left.

In a trial whose next hearing is set for March 11, Berlusconi is accused of bribing British lawyer David Mills to lie in court in the 1990s to protect the media magnate's business interests. Mills was convicted in 2009 of having taken a $600,000 bribe, but the verdict was overturned last year when Italy's highest criminal court ruled the statute of limitations had expired.

Berlusconi said Saturday that his Cabinet in a special meeting in a few days will work on what he hailed as "epochal" reform of the Italian justice system.

Among the reforms Berlusconi would like to see are extensive limits on use of intercepted telephone conversations by prosecutors.

Italian media recently have run intercepted conversations of young women who were invited to frequent parties at the premier's private residences. Berlusconi's wife, who is divorcing from him, has complained of what she has called his infatuation with young women.

Earlier this year, Italy's constitutional court watered down a law promoted by Berlusconi's government that shielded him from prosecution.

Critics contend that Berlusconi has used much of his energy since becoming premier in 2008 to promote laws tailor-made to help him with his judicial woes.

Frances D'emilio

MORE FROM Frances D'emilio

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Italy Silvio Berlusconi