ROME – For Italian billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, his trial on charges of abusing power and paying an underage girl for sex is becoming a real pain in the eye.
Berlusconi, 76, mired in legal battles as he fights to become Italy’s prime minister for the fourth time, was admitted to a hospital in Milan on Thursday to deal with an eye infection. He is likely to stay through Saturday or Sunday, delaying Friday’s planned court date to look into charges of abuse of power and paying a 17-year-old erotic dancer, Karima el-Mahroug -- best known as “Ruby the Heart Stealer” -- for sex.
“Mr. Berlusconi had a very painful night last night,” his personal physician Alberto Zangrillo told reporters Friday at Milan’s San Raffaele hospital.
It was also an eye problem that caused Berlusconi to skip his final campaign rally ahead of the Feb. 24-25 national vote in which he was beaten by a razor-thin margin by former minister Pier Luigi Bersani. But with no winner in the Senate, Bersani, Berlusconi and comedian, blogger and activist Beppe Grillo -- the heads of the three main political coalitions -- are locked in a difficult end game to determine who will be the country’s next prime minister.
The judge in the abuse of power case agreed to accept the petition from Berlusconi’s lawyers to delay the trial despite a call from prosecutor Ilda Bossassini that the court dispatch its own doctors to the hospital to confirm Berlusconi’s condition.
The eye infection also is likely to result in a delay in Saturday’s hearing in Berlusconi’s appeal hearing on charges of tax evasion. He was convicted in that case and sentenced to four years behind bars last year.
The tax fraud case, from October, is the first conviction to stick against Berlusconi after more than 20 other cases over two decades in which he escaped, often because of multiple delays that resulted in the statute of limitations running out, or for technical reasons.
Berlusconi this week was sentenced to a year in jail in connection with a wiretap case and has been accused of vote-buying in two others cases. His position on the Forbes billionaire list recently slipped for the fourth consecutive year.