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Silvio Berlusconi, a former Prime Minister of Italy, is standing trial to face charges that he paid Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug – also known by the stage name Ruby Rubacuori (Italian for "Ruby Heartstealer") – for sexual services between February and May 2010 when she was under the age of 18.[nb 1] He is also facing charges that he abused his office (It. concussione) by arranging to have Karima released from police detention during an incident in which she was briefly held on claims of theft. While the investigators claim to have evidence from lawful interception of mobile phone conversations, Berlusconi's lawyers deny the allegations, calling the investigation absurd and without foundation.
On 27 May 2010, El Mahroug was arrested by the police in Milan after being accused of the theft of three thousand euros. Since she was not carrying any legal or identification documents, the officers took her to the local police headquarters to identify her and for questioning. Since she was a minor under eighteen, a judge ordered the police to direct her to a shelter for juvenile offenders.
After a couple of hours, while she was being questioned, Berlusconi, who was at the time in Paris, called the head of the police in Milan and pressured for her release, claiming the girl was related to then President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and that in order to avoid a diplomatic crisis, she was to be brought to the custody of Nicole Minetti. Following repeated telephone calls by Berlusconi to the police authorities, El Mahroug was eventually released and entrusted to Minetti's care.
Minetti was known for previous associations with Berlusconi, having danced for Colorado Cafe, a show on one of Berlusconi's TV channels, and on Scorie, an Italian version of Candid Camera. In November 2009 she became a dental hygienist, and shortly afterward treated Berlusconi for two broken teeth and facial injuries after he was attacked with a marble statue at a political rally. In February 2010, she was selected as one of the candidates representing Berlusconi's The People of Freedom party, despite a lack of political experience, and was seated on the Regional Council of Lombardy the following month.
The Guardian reported that according to a series of media reports in October 2010, Berlusconi had met El Mahroug, then 17, through Nicole Minetti. Mahroug insisted that she had not slept with the then 74-year-old prime minister. She told Italian newspapers that she merely attended dinner at his mansion near Milan. El Mahroug said she sat next to Berlusconi, who later took her upstairs and gave her an envelope containing €7,000. She said he also gave her jewellery.
In January 2011, Berlusconi was placed under criminal investigation relating to El Mahroug for allegedly having sex with an underage prostitute and for abuse of office relating to her release from detention. Berlusconi's lawyers were quick to deny the allegations as "absurd and without foundation" and called the investigation a "serious interference with the private life of the prime minister without precedent in the judicial history of the country".
The Telegraph reported 6 March that prosecutors were days from requesting charges against Emilio Fede, a television anchorman, and Dario "Lele" Mora, a well-known celebrity agent, for procuring underage girls in a "vast pimping network" to attend "bunga bunga" sex parties with the prime minister. According to the prosecutors' dossier, Fede 'discovered' El Mahroug when acting as a judge at a beauty pageant in Sicily in September 2009, and passed her on to the Mora's offices in central Milan, which served as a "form of 'clearing centre' for women eager to enter the prime minister's circle in pursuit of money, gifts and help with their show business careers".
On 15 February 2011, a judge indicted Berlusconi to stand trial. If convicted, the Prime Minister could face up to 15 years in prison. Paying for sex with a minor in Italy is punished within a range of six months to three years imprisonment, while the crime of malfeasance in office (Italian: it:concussione) is more severely punished, from four years to twelve years imprisonment, as it is considered a type of extortion committed by a public officer.
The fast-track trial opened on 6 April and was adjourned until 31 May. El Mahroug's lawyer said that Mahroug would not be attaching herself to the case as a civil complainant and denies that she ever made herself available for money. Another alleged victim, Giorgia Iafrate, also decided not to be a party to the case. In January 2013, judges rejected an application from Berlusconi's lawyers to have the trial adjourned so that it would not interfere with Italy's 2013 general election in which Berlusconi participated.