ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi claims he will prove in court that Karima el-Mahroug, a Moroccan belly dancer, was not underage when he allegedly paid her for sex at one of his mansions.

Berlusconi, 74, has told MPs from his People of Freedom party that lawyers have established Mahroug, known as “Ruby the Heart Stealer”, is two years older than claimed.

This would have made her 19 rather than 17 when she first went to his Villa San Martino near Milan on Valentine’s Day last year. In Italy paying for sex with a girl under 18 is a crime.

Berlusconi will stand trial in Milan next month accused of having paid for sex with Mahroug while she was underage and of abusing his power by arranging for her to be freed from police custody after she was arrested for theft last May.

Prosecutors allege Mahroug participated in “bunga-bunga” orgies with Berlusconi, showgirls and prostitutes. Berlusconi and Mahroug have both denied the charges.  Mahroug has said Berlusconi gave her money but he never “laid a finger on me”.

Berlusconi told his MPs last week: “We have the proof that she wasn’t underage!” He added: “She was declared at the register office two years after her birth.”  The Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that his defence team had confirmed this in the Moroccan town of Feki Ben Salah, where she was born.  But her Moroccan passport, a copy of which is in the prosecution file, states that she was born in November 1992.

Berlusconi’s hopes were dampened by Mahroug’s father, M’Hammed, a street vendor in Sicily. “It isn’t true that she was registered two years after her birth,” said Venera Scrima, his lawyer.

In a separate case, Berlusconi went on trial in Milan yesterday for alleged tax fraud at his Mediatrade film rights company. On Friday he will go on trial accused of bribing the British lawyer David Mills, the estranged husband of the former Labour minister Tessa Jowell, to lie in court. The court cases will culminate with the “Rubygate” trial, starting on April 6.

Berlusconi has said that even if convicted he would not resign. “I daydream of becoming an ordinary citizen again, but 51 per cent of Italians think highly of me and 49 per cent hate me. If I left, those who follow me would think I’d deceived them,” he said.

 

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