Italian judge sends 23 to trial in Berlusconi sex bribery case
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Italian tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi talks with reporters as he leaves the hospital after a heart surgery in Milan, Italy July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo
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MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian judge on Wednesday sent a Moroccan exotic dancer and 22 others for trial on a variety of charges, including lying under oath about lavish parties hosted by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Prosecutors accuse Berlusconi of bribing witnesses to silence them over accusations he paid for sex with young women, including Karima El Mahroug, who is better known by her stage name Ruby the Heartstealer and who was underage at the time. Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing in the case.
He was acquitted in 2014 of having sex with the 17-year-old dancer and abusing his power as prime minister at the time to cover it up, with a judge ruling Berlusconi did not know that Mahroug was a minor.
Prosecutors have since alleged that around 10 million euros ($11 million) were paid to corrupt the witnesses in the case, of which Mahroug received 7 million.
She said in the witness box that she had never had sex with Berlusconi and has since denied giving false testimony.
The court on Wednesday put back until Dec. 15 a decision on whether also to send the 80-year-old Berlusconi to trial because poor health meant that he had missed pre-trial hearings.
Berlusconi had major heart surgery in June.
Among those sent to trial on Wednesday were 16 women who took part in the "Bunga Bunga" parties. The first hearing was set for Jan. 11.
Berlusconi's political career has been dogged by non-stop legal battles. He was barred from office following a 2013 conviction for tax fraud and although he remains head of his Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party he has lost much popular support.
($1 = 0.9121 euros)
(Writing by Crispian Balmer)
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