Immediate trial requested for Berlusconi

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Lisa Mullins: Prosecutors in Italy have filed a request to put the country's prime minister on trial immediately. A judge will now decide whether to grant that request. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has spent a lot of his time in office deflecting prosecutors' attempts to haul him into court, mostly on corruption charges. This time, though, Italy's top politician may be running out of options. Prosecutors in Milan say they have overwhelming evidence that Berlusconi paid for sex with a minor and then abused his power to try to cover it up. The prime minister has dismissed the move as a disgusting attempt to drive him from power. Journalist Philip Willan profiled one of the prosecutors on the case, in a recent edition of Foreign Policy magazine. Her name is Ilda Boccassini. Philip Willan, how central is this prosecutor, Ms. Boccassini, to the case against Italy's prime minister?

Philip Willan: She's a very senior, experienced prosecutor. She has tackled Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian mafia. She is quite a formidable lady and of course Mr. Berlusconi's supporters say that she is motivated by political animosity because she is a left wing supporter.

Mullins: When you say that she is known as kind of a tough character, what is he facing across the table from this woman?

Willan: Her appearance is that of a very severe woman. An inflexible applier of the law. And certainly there is a lot of tension surrounding this latest battle between her and the prime minister. She herself has been vilified in newspapers close to the prime minister. Recently the newspaper that is actually owned by the prime minister's brother dredged up a story from 30 years ago involving alleged inappropriate behavior by her when she was a young woman. It's a very dirty fight at the moment.

Mullins: Well, inappropriate behavior is one of the accusations against the current prime minister. Tell us exactly what the charges are against Mr. Berlusconi.

Willan: The most embarrassing charge is that he had sex with a woman who was under the age of 18 and he had paid for the sexual services of this woman, which is a crime under Italian law. The allegation then is that at a certain point this young woman, called Karima El Mahroug -- more commonly known as Ruby Heartrobber in the Italian press; she was arrested by police after being accused of theft. The prosecutors say that Mr. Berlusconi was alerted to her problem and he called police headquarters in Milan to ask them to release her because she was either the niece or the granddaughter of President Mubarak of Egypt.

Mullins: By the way, she's not related to Mubarak, I take it.

Willan: Absolutely not at all, and she's Moroccan and has no connection to him whatsoever.

Mullins: Well Mr. Berlusconi says that the phone call to police was an innocent attempt to help her out. He said that he did not pay Ruby for sex. If he is found guilty, though, on these charges, what kind of punishment does he face?

Willan: The charge of having sex with an underage prostitute carries a prison sentence of up to three years. The abuse of power is seen as a more serious crime, and I believe the potential limit for imprisonment would be up to 11 years.

Mullins: Could this potentially Berlusconi's always facing one accusation or another, mostly as we said, corruption charges, could these charges about his sexual activity, in some cases criminal sexual activity, be the end of his political career?

Willan: The Italian public seems to be extraordinarily tolerant of what other countries would consider eccentric or unacceptable behavior. Evidence of sleaze is not really enough to hurt the prime minister seriously or put an end to his political career. But I think a conviction would be a very different matter.

Mullins: Thank you very much. Philip Willan, Rome-based journalist and author of two books on Italy's Cold War history, talking about the latest charges against Italy's prime minister. Thanks very much.

Willan: Pleasure.