Silvio Berlusconi condemns 'disgusting' prosecutors

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Italy's prime minister has said a request by prosecutors in Milan to have him put on trial immediately for allegedly paying for sex with an underage girl is "disgusting".

Silvio Berlusconi said the prosecutors' case was a "pretext" to oust him.

He denies paying for sex with Karima El Mahroug when she was 17, and abusing his power to get her released by police after she was detained in another case.

A magistrate will now decide if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.

If convicted, the prime minister could face up to 15 years in prison.

'A farce'

Speaking to reporters in Rome shortly after the request for his indictment was filed, Mr Berlusconi again insisted that the accusations against him were groundless and said the prosecutors were acting subversively.

"I can only say that it's a farce. They are accusations without any basis. The only aim of the inquiry is to defame me in the media," he said.

"But I am not worried about myself. I am a rich man who could spend his time building hospitals around the world, as I have always wanted."

"These acts are violating the law and go against parliament, because Milan's prosecutors have no jurisdiction," he added. "It's shameful and disgusting."

"I wonder who's going to pay for these activities that, in my humble view, only have a subversive aim."

"In the end, it will be the state which pay for this. I'll sue the state, of course, because magistrates are not liable. This is something we need to change and will change."

Mr Berlusconi reiterated that Miss Mahroug - a Moroccan nightclub dancer also known as Ruby, who is now 18 - had denied that they had sex. But she has said she received money after one of his parties.

Although frequenting prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, having sex with one under the age of 18 is an offence that commands a prison sentence.

Mr Berlusconi also said he did not abuse his power when he told police to release Miss Mahroug after she was detained on suspicion of theft, explaining that he believed she was the niece of Egypt's president.

"I intervened as prime minister because I was worried and wanted to avoid an international diplomatic incident," he added. "I did nothing wrong and acted out of pity."

"I am sorry if all these things have offended the nation's dignity and soiled its reputation."

Earlier on Wednesday, the prosecutors in Milan announced that they had sent examining magistrate Cristina Di Censo a request for an immediate trial of Mr Berlusconi "on the basis of sufficient evidence".

The fast-track procedure of summary judgement, which skips preliminary hearings, can be requested when there is clear evidence of an offence.

If Ms Di Censo decides there is insufficient proof to warrant a speedy trial, the prosecutors will be forced to bring Mr Berlusconi to trial using the normal, much slower procedure.

She will also have to decide whether a court in Milan is competent to hear the case. Mr Berlusconi's lawyers say the prime minister can only be judged by a special court for members of parliament.

The prosecutors have submitted two sets of documents detailing the evidence against the prime minister. They allegedly include proof that payments were made by his aides to a "significant number" of young women, including Miss Mahroug.

Last month, Italy's Constitutional Court amended a law granting members of the government temporary immunity from prosecution. The court decided that individual judges should be allowed to decide whether ministers should be tried while in office.