Berlusconi wins brief respite from sex scandals
Rome: Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi won some brief respite from raging sex scandals
when parliament rejected a request from prosecutors to search
his accountant's offices.
The vote was carried by 315 votes in favour to 298
against -- a far higher majority than the beleaguered
Berlusconi has enjoyed recently, after scraping through a
no-confidence vote in parliament in December last year.
The victory is a largely symbolic one as prosecutors are
expected next week to request a trial against Berlusconi for
abuse of power in an inquiry involving a young nightclub
dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart-Stealer.
The accusation is part of a wider investigation into the
74-year-old Italian leader on allegations of hand-picking
prostitutes for wild parties and paying to have sex with Ruby
when she was still under 18 -- a criminal offence.
The prime minister's loyal accountant for the past 30
years, Giuseppe Spinelli, is alleged to have handled payments
to the women, including arranging rent-free accommodation in a
suburban complex built by Berlusconi in the 1970s.
Spinelli's office is considered as being under
parliamentary privilege because of Berlusconi's status as a
member of parliament. The opposition has accused Berlusconi of
hiding from prosecution behind his status for years.
The latest scandal over Ruby, whose real name is Karima
El Mahroug, erupted on January 14 and came after a top court
modified a temporary immunity law that has shielded the
Italian leader from impending corruption trials.
Berlusconi has dismissed all the allegations against him
as a plot by prosecutors and has pledged to continue governing
as normal, putting together an economic plan aimed at boosting
Italy's sluggish growth rate.
The government has also pledged to move ahead with a
controversial federalism programme to delegate greater powers
to Italy's regions, a key demand of Berlusconi's last
remaining major ally -- the Northern League party.
The government yesterday failed to win backing from a
parliamentary committee for a law to grant greater tax raising
powers to cities but later approved a similar measure by
decree anyway at an emergency cabinet meeting.