Italy court rules against moving Berlusconi sex trial

MILAN (AFP) - Italy's supreme court on Monday turned down an appeal by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's defence team to move sex and fraud trials against the media magnate from Milan to another city, Italian media reported.

The decision opens the way for the scandal-tainted tycoon's fraud appeal trial to resume on Wednesday and for his trial for having sex with an underage prostitute to continue next Monday.

The billionaire's lawyers had accused several Milan judges of "creating a hostile environment" around their client, and had argued that he would get fairer trials in nearby Brescia.

The trials, in which verdicts are imminent, had been suspended until the supreme court ruling.

In October, the three-time premier was sentenced to a year in prison and handed a five-year ban from holding public office for fraud linked to his business empire Mediaset, but the punishment has been suspended during the appeal process.

Even if the conviction is upheld, the 76-year-old could file a second appeal to the supreme court.

A separate trial against Berlusconi for allegedly paying for sex with a 17-year-old prostitute while he was still prime minister is set to resume next week, and a verdict is expected soon after.

Berlusconi is accused of having sex for money in 2010 with Karima El-Mahroug, an exotic dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer who attended parties thrown at his luxury villa.

He faces up to three years in prison on that charge and up to 12 years for allegedly putting pressure on police to have her released from custody when she was arrested for petty theft.

Despite suffering a huge drop in popularity when he was ousted from office during the financial crisis in 2011, Berlusconi has recently seen his support soar once more.

His protege Angelo Alfano was named deputy prime minister in the country's new cabinet last week, and critics have accused the media baron of attempting to wield influence from behind the scenes in the hope of protecting himself from his legal troubles.

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