Berlusconi under pressure as sex trial looms
Milan: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial on charges of sex with an underage nightclub dancer and abuse of power opens in Milan on Wednesday after a dramatic build-up that has dented his popularity.
The billionaire tycoon is no stranger to the dock after years of investigations and trials linked to his business interests but this will be the first time that his tumultuous personal life is exposed in a courtroom.
Berlusconi himself will not be attending the preliminary hearing, a member of his defence team told AFP on condition of anonymity, and the judges are expected to delay the official start of the trial to May or even June.
On the eve of the hearing, Berlusconi's coalition in parliament approved a motion that challenges the prerogative of the court in Milan to try the prime minister indicating the case should be heard by a special court for ministers.
The vote, which is non-binding and will not halt the trial but opens the way for the Constitutional Court to consider the matter, was branded as "shameful" and "unconstitutional" by the opposition.
The twice-divorced 74-year-old has made no secret of his love for beautiful young women but vehemently denies having sex last year with then 17-year-old nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug -- better known as "Ruby the Heart Stealer".
Berlusconi also says he ensured she was released from police custody after she was detained for theft in order to avoid a diplomatic incident because he thought she was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.