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Berlusconi defense denies erotic escapades at ex-premier's villa, says court 'biased'

Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's defense denied Monday that there were any erotic escapades at dinners at the media mogul's villa near Milan, and accused the court of bias against the businessman-turned-politician.

Nicolo Ghedini said during closing arguments that Berlusconi neither paid for sex with an under-age teen, nor exerted pressure on police officials in an effort to cover it up, as charged. The sensational trial is in its final stage, with a verdict expected later this month. The next trial date was set for June 24.

Both Berlusconi and the woman, Karima el-Mahroug, who is now 20 and was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters, deny ever having had sex.

"Given that we are in Milan, I can't be optimistic, but I retain the hopes of a defender," said Ghedini, who accused the city's magistrates of bias against Berlusconi.

Ghedini said most prosecution witnesses who described scenes of sexual excess during the parties were not there between February 2010 and May 2010 when el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby, attended dinners at the villa. Defense witnesses described "normal" dinners during which participants chatted about soccer and denied any sexual encounters with the then-premier.

"We have 25 witnesses give more or less similar accounts of the evenings," Ghedini said, adding that prosecutors could not argue that their witnesses were correct while those of the defense who denied having sex with the premier were not reliable.

One witness who never testified at Berlusconi's trial was el-Mahroug herself. The prosecution entered her sworn statements to investigators into testimony — many of which she has since disavowed — and she failed to appear several times for the defense, which eventually struck her from the list.

However, she did testify at a related trial of three former aides to Berlusconi accused of procuring prostitutes for Berlulsconi's infamous "bunga bunga" parties, telling the court that she witnessed several girls dancing provocatively in a striptease for Berlusconi.

In the other trial, el-Mahroug denied having sex with Berlusconi, while also saying she had exaggerated many of her exploits to friends and acquaintances to make herself seem more important. She said she received envelopes with several thousand euros as gifts from the then-premier every time she attended a party, plus an additional 30,000 euros ($39,000) to open a beauty salon. But she denied receiving the euros 4.5 million she had bragged about.

Ghedini said el-Mahroug "had the tendency to daydream, to lie about her name and her age," and that among her lies were statements that she had received millions from Berlusconi. Despite the inconsistencies, he asked the court to enter into the record el-Mahroug's statements in the other trial.

Ghedini also said Berlusconi was "convinced" that el-Mahroug was related to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — part of the case that relates to the charge of seeking to pressure an official to cover up a crime. Berlusconi would never have discussed the young woman at a lunch with Mubarak in May 2010, if he had known she "was a minor, a Moroccan who lived in Sicily in a state of poverty, and whose father was a street vendor," Ghedini said.

Prosecutors allege Berlusconi later said she was related to Mubarak only to get her released from police custody after she was accused of stealing from a roommate — an attempt, prosecutors say, to keep the true nature of their relationship quiet. Ghedini said Berlusconi telephoned an official only for information and not to seek special treatment.

Prosecutors are seeking a six-year prison sentence for Berlusconi and a lifetime ban from public office, a sentence Ghedini called "stratospheric and extraordinary."

A Milan appeals court last month upheld a tax fraud conviction against Berlusconi as well as the four-year sentence and five-year ban on public office. His team has said it will appeal the conviction to Italy's highest court.

Berlusconi's defense had sought to move both the under-age prostitution trial and a tax fraud case to Brescia, another northern Italian city, arguing that Milan magistrates are biased against Berlusconi. Italy's high court denied the request.

Ghedini said in his closing argument that the Milan judges hearing the sex case are "culturally similar" to prosecutors, whom he has accused of waging a politically motivated campaign against Berlusconi with the goal of removing him from politics.

"I had the impression during the course of this trial of having caused some annoyance to the judges," Ghedini said.