Female judges to preside over Berlusconi sex trial

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, February 16, 2011
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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose actions sparked massive protests that saw as many as one million women take to the streets on Sunday, will stand trial in April with his fate decided by three female judges.

Milan-based Judge Cristina Di Censo announced Tuesday that she would grant prosecutors' request to hold a fast-track trial to look into charges that Berlusconi is guilty of abuse of power and paying a minor for sex.

The investigation that led to the case stems from Berlusconi's relationship with a then-17-year-old erotic dancer named Karima el Mahrough -- best known by her stage name "Ruby" -- and allegations that he may have illegally used his influence to help her after she had been arrested for theft.

The blockbuster hearing is scheduled to get underway April 6.

But even before the decision from Di Censo to try Berlusconi on the charges, pollsters said that Italians have been growing weary of the prime minister's actions and that they feared they distracted him from his work as prime minister.

On Sunday, those frustrations came to a head when as many as a million people in Rome and more than 200 other Italian cities and towns -- most of them women -- demonstrated against what they said was a kind of sexism that was increasingly ingrained in Italy and promoted by Berlusconi's actions.

"Sunday was a rare instance when women, who are so often undervalued by Italian society, stood up against something they believed was demeaning them and demanded their voices be heard," Simona Di Domenico, a sociologist and commentator with Rome Tre University, told Xinhua.

Now it appears that at least three other women -- the judges in Berlusconi's trial -- will have their voices heard in connection with the case. Giulia Turri, Orsola De Cristoforo, and Carmen D' Elia were named the judges who will preside over the April 6 trial.

Of the three, Turri is the best known: she oversaw a tax evasion probe into managers from Internet giant Google and controversially ordered the main players in a drug investigation into Milan discos placed under house arrest. But legal experts say that all three have been known as tough but fair jurists.

In January, Italy's constitutional court stripped away key elements of a controversial law that gave Berlusconi and other top government officials protection from prosecution while they were in office. But early indications are that they will argue that the Milan court does not have the authority to try a sitting prime minister.

In recent days, Berlusconi allies have again joined the prime minister in insisting that he is the victim of a vendetta from his political enemies.

"There is no crime and no victim," Daniele Capezzone, a leading official in Berlusconi's political coalition, was quoted as saying in the Italian press. "There is only a group of left wing activists who were beaten at the polls and who are trying to use the courts to defeat a movement they could not beat at the ballot box."

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