Could the 'Bunga Bunga' sex trial topple Berlusconi?

Italy's larger-than-life prime minister is charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute. Is this the scandal that finally brings him down?

Silvio Berlusconi has survived corruption trials before but the latest may be his last.
(Image credit: Corbis)

Those hoping that Silvio Berlusconi's trial on charges of sex with a minor would curtail his controversial leadership will have to wait a little longer. The trial was scheduled to begin this morning, but was immediately adjourned until May 31. Even so, the gravity of the charges — the Italian prime minister is accused of paying for sex with a 17-year-old dancer named Ruby Heartstealer, whom he met at one of his infamous 'Bunga Bunga' parties, then abusing his position to get her released from jail — remains the same. Any other elected leader of a democracy would likely have resigned in disgrace, but Berlusconi still manages to cling to power. Could the trial be the straw that breaks the camel's back?

No. Berlusconi will never be convicted: My bet is this trial will never reach a verdict, says Alex Rossi at Sky News. "The wheels of Italian justice turn slowly," and the media magnate Berlusconi has both the money and the power to slow them even further. His team of lawyers will "stymie proceedings and drag the hearing out" until it is timed out by the statute of limitations.

"The Berlusconi circus"

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He'll survive the trial, but may lose an election: It's doubtful the trial will bring Berlusconi down, says Gavin Hewitt at the BBC, but he has become an acute embarrassment to Italy. World leaders avoid him at global summits, the international media mocks him, and his popularity ratings have slipped to 30 percent. "He could survive the trial, but it is less likely he would win another election."

"Berlusconi on trial"

His tax fraud case is far more serious: "Rubygate" won't push Berlusconi out of office, says The Economist, but he is also accused of bribing a British lawyer, David Mills, to withhold testimony that would have convicted him in an earlier tax fraud trial. Berlusconi is said to fear that case more, and with good reason: Mills has already been found guilty, and "there is a real chance the prime minister could face the same verdict."

"Opening the Rubygate"

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