Key witness in Berlusconi trial turns up in Mexico

Berlusconi is accused of paying Karima el-Mahroug for sex during his notorious "bunga bunga" parties, and using his office to cover it up. Both deny the accusations.

ROME — The Moroccan woman at the center of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi's pay-for-sex trial has turned up in Mexico after missing a court date and becoming entangled in Italy's latest political drama.

News agency ANSA reported Tuesday that Karima el-Mahroug, known as Ruby, notified her attorney of her whereabouts after reading that her absence Monday had sparked a minor uproar in court. Attorney Paola Boccardi informed the court that Ruby wasn't expected back until next month.

Berlusconi is accused of paying el-Mahroug, then 17, for sex during his notorious "bunga bunga" parties, and using his office to cover it up. Both deny the accusations.

Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini accused Berlusconi's defense of keeping el-Mahroug away to delay a verdict until after February elections, in which Berlusconi is running. Berlusconi's attorney denied the accusation.

The 76-year-old billionaire said last week he would seek re-election after his party abruptly withdrew support from Prime Minister Mario Monti's government, prompting Monti to announce he would resign early.

Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with el-Mahroug at parties thrown in his lavish villas when she was under 18, which is the minimum legal age for prostitution in Italy.

The trial, in which dozens of aspiring showgirls have described parties at Berlusconi's residences, is the most sensational of his legal cases and has been getting huge media attention in Italy and abroad.

Berlusconi denies all charges and el-Mahroug, who is now 20, has said she never had sex with him.

The center-right leader is also accused of abusing his powers when he was still prime minister to have el-Mahroug released from police custody when she was briefly held over theft allegations.

An aide told the trial Berlusconi mistakenly thought el-Mahroug was the granddaughter of Hosni Mubarak and he believed he was doing the former Egyptian dictator a favor.


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