Silvio Berlusconi 'Ruby' sex trial opens then adjourns

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. 4 April 2011 Prosecutors allege that Mr Berlusconi had sex with prostitutes at his villa

The trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on charges of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute has opened in Milan.

Neither Mr Berlusconi nor the alleged prostitute, Karima El Mahroug, were in court, and the hearing was adjourned after only a few minutes, until 31 May.

Mr Berlusconi is also accused of abuse of office by intervening to have Ms Mahroug released from police custody.

He denies any wrongdoing and says the charges are politically motivated.

Mr Berlusconi faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.

However, most observers expect a long trial with frequent delays and legal challenges at every stage.

Over the weeks and months ahead, 20,000 pages of evidence will be presented and about 40 women will be called as witnesses.

Mr Berlusconi denies having sex last year with teenage nightclub dancer Ms Mahroug - better known as Ruby.

She also denies having sex with Mr Berlusconi, or being a prostitute.

Prosecutors allege that the Italian leader paid for sex with Ruby while she was still 17, an offence under Italian law. They maintain that the prime minister had sex with her on 13 occasions.

Gavin Hewitt's Europe

Start Quote

It is a trial that risks becoming a show... the evidence too may descend into a sleazy plot”

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Correspondents say wire-tap evidence will be presented which is expected to reveal how women were procured for parties at Mr Berlusconi's villa.

The list of 78 witnesses named by Mr Berlusconi includes Hollywood star George Clooney and Mr Clooney's girlfriend, the Italian model and TV star Elisabetta Canalis, who were guests at one of Mr Berlusconi's parties.

Mr Berlusconi is currently a defendant in four different trials. He recently appeared in court in Milan on corruption charges, which he also denies.

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