Berlusconi Refuses to Be Quizzed by Prosecutors in Milan Prostitution Case
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to be questioned by prosecutors probing him for alleged involvement with an underage prostitute, as Pope Benedict XVI urged politicians to return to “moral roots.”
“Berlusconi’s not going today and we’ll have to wait and see how the situation evolves to see whether he will appear at all,” Piersilvio Cipolotti, one of the prime minister’s defense lawyers, said by phone today.
Milan prosecutors had requested that Berlusconi, 74, answer questions about allegations that he paid an underage woman for sexual relations and then helped secure her release from police custody in Milan in May, according to a Jan. 14 statement by the office of Chief Prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati. Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing.
The scandal triggered calls by Berlusconi’s political opponents for him to step down, five weeks after his conservative government survived a no-confidence motion in parliament by three votes. The case also has sparked concern from the Vatican and could threaten Catholic voter support for his coalition.
Pope Benedict XVI, while not citing the premier by name, today urged politicians to return to their “spiritual and moral roots.” Speaking at a papal audience with Rome police officials, the pope called on “society and public institutions” to regain a sense of ethics and morality, according to a text posted on the Vatican’s website.
The Vatican is following Berlusconi’s case “with concern,” news agency Ansa reported yesterday, citing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s secretary of state. The Italian Bishops Conference may discuss the matter at a meeting Jan. 24, Ansa said today, quoting its leader, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.
Milan prosecutors are investigating Berlusconi’s relationship with a Moroccan national, Karima El Mahroug, known as Ruby Heart Stealer, who as a 17-year-old attended at least one party at his Milan mansion in February. The allegations of abuse of power stem from his role in helping her after she was detained by police in May on unrelated theft charges.
Berlusconi has said he didn’t know Ruby was a minor and denied pressuring police to release her, saying he only tried to help because of her “tragic situation.” He referred to her as a relative of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he called the Milan police headquarters, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told parliament in November. She is not related to Mubarak.
Berlusconi faces the resumption of other corruption trials pending against him after his immunity while in office was curtailed by Italy’s high court on Jan. 13.
“This is very serious,” Donatella Ferranti, a member of the opposition Democratic Party on the Justice Committee in the lower house of parliament, said in an e-mailed statement today. The prime minister “is fleeing from justice once again.”
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