(CBS/AP) Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has made no secret of his admiration for beautiful women, will stand trial on charges that he paid for sex with 17-year-old Moroccan girl Karima El Mahroug and then tried to cover it up, a judge ruled Tuesday.
The 74-year-old billionaire businessman has previously been in court for a number of business-related charges, but on April 6 Berlusconi will be tried for the first time on personal conduct charges.
Prosecutors allege Berlusconi paid for sex with Moroccan nightclub dancer Mahroug, who is reportedly known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, then used his influence to get her out of police custody when she was detained for an unrelated suspected theft of 3,000 euro ($4,103). They allege that Berlusconi called police the night of May 27-28 last year because he feared that their relationship would be revealed.
Paying for sex with a prostitute is not a crime in Italy, unless the prostitute is under the age of 18.
Both Berlusconi and Mahroug - who has since turned 18 - have denied having sexual relations, although she has said Berlusconi gave her 7,000 euro ($9,550) on their first meeting.
Berlusconi has not denied making the phone call, but said he did so because he wanted to avert a diplomatic incident. According to his supporters, Berlusconi believed Mahroug to be the niece of Hosni Mubarak, the recently ousted Egyptian president.
Judge Cristina Di Censo handed down the indictment with a terse statement that showed she believes there is enough evidence to subject Berlusconi to an immediate trial, as prosecutors had requested. The trial will be heard by a panel of three judges, all of them women, who were picked at random.
The child prostitution charge carries a possible prison sentence of six months to three years. The abuse of influence charge, which experts say is more dangerous for Berlusconi, carries a possible sentence of four to 12 years. Berlusconi could be barred permanently from public office if convicted of abusing his influence.
Tens of thousands of women rallied across Italy Sunday to protest Berlusconi's alleged conduct with young women, which they say degrades female dignity.