Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is in legal limbo over his alleged relations with an underage girl.
Prosecutors in Milan today formally requested an immediate trial for Berlusconi, who is accused of paying for sex with a then 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer known as Ruby and later abusing his authority to get her released from police custody.
A judge is to decide whether to accept the request or dismiss it.
Berlusconi, who has denied wrongdoing, today called the probe "disgusting" and said it was aimed at damaging his government.
"This thing about the trials, which are false trials, these accusations are completely without any proof," he said, "and everyone has seen that they are just waging a negative media campaign."
Prosecutors are asking for a fast-track trial, suggesting they have enough evidence to skip preliminary hearings.
If their request is approved, the 74-year-old prime minister could face a trial in the coming months.
Both offenses carry possible prison sentences.
Rome-based political analyst James Walston says things are not looking good for Italy’s embattled prime minister.
"The Italians have a saying, 'the worst never dies', and after the last two years as the Berlusconi sex scandal grew and the revelations grew there was always a presumption that it can't get worse," Walston says. "It can and it probably is getting worse."
‘We Didn’t Do It’
Berlusconi and Ruby, who is now 18, both deny they had sex.
The young woman, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, says she received money after a party at Berlusconi's villa, but denies it was in return for sex.
Berlusconi claims the accusations are part of a politically motivated campaign to drive him out of office.
In a televised address in January, he dismissed as absurd the Ruby affair, saying everyone knows they didn’t have sex and that he was not aware that she was underage.
"This girl said to the lawyers, and also said a thousand times to all Italian and foreign newspapers, that she never, ever had a [sexual] relationship with me, and that it was believed by all present," Berlusconi said. "[And] as it is clear from many, many testimonies, [she presented herself] as a girl of 24 years."
He admits calling police to secure Mahroug's release after she was detained on separate theft allegations, but says he believed at the time that she was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's niece and was simply trying to avoid an embarrassing diplomatic incident.
Berlusconi has refused to appear for questioning and insists that Milan prosecutors have no right to preside over the case.
The latest opinion polls show the probe has hurt Berlusconi's popularity, but he still retains a solid voter base.
Despite strong condemnation from the Catholic Church, many Italians see nothing fundamentally wrong in his actions.
Businessman Gianfranco Zulli said the prime minister loves what he does, "but he should do it a bit more cleverly, as many others do."
Young Italians have been the most vocal in calling for Berlusconi's prosecution and, ultimately, his resignation.
"This is absolutely fair," said Francesca Landucci, a teenager who was interviewed in Rome. "I just think it is incredible that people still don't understand what kind of a person he is. I think it is really right he needs to start paying the price for what he has done. "
The prosecutors' request for an immediate trial adds pressure on the media tycoon, who has been bogged down by a string of sex sandals and a damaging split in his Party of Freedom.
Italy's Constitutional Court last month amended a law passed by Berlusconi's government granting him immunity from prosecution, ruling it was up to individual judges whether to try a prime minister in office.
The decision prompted the resumption of three trials against Berlusconi for corruption and tax fraud.
written by Claire Bigg, with agency reports