Judges hit back at Berlusconi over sex probe

Italy's magistrates hit back at Silvio Berlusconi Thursday after the prime minister charged that a probe launched by prosecutors into his relations with a teenage girl was politically motivated.

The president of the Italian magistrates' association, Luca Palamara, told the SkyTG24 channel that Berlusconi's charges were "unacceptable" and "seriously threatened the autonomy and independence of the magistracy."

"We don't want to be dragged into a theatre which is not ours, that of political opposition and conflict," he said, adding that he was defending "the peace of my colleagues who are conducting inquiries."

Magistrates respected the presumption of innocence imposed by the Italian constitution, he added.

It emerged this week that prosecutors in Milan were accusing Berlusconi of consorting with prostitutes and other women he kept in rent-free luxury apartments, and paying for sex with an underage disco dancer.

Having sex with an underage prostitute has been punishable with a prison sentence since Berlusconi's right-wing government voted in a law against it in 2006.

"There's been no graft, no incitement to prostitution, not even of a minor," Berlusconi said on television late Wednesday.

He slammed a "new, very serious attack on the part of the magistrates who have trampled on the laws for political ends" and "want to use the affair as a political weapon".

The Milan prosecutor's office announced the investigation on Friday, just a day after a top court ruling partially stripped the prime minister of political immunity.

Prosecutors have summoned Berlusconi for questioning but the prime minister says they are not qualified to handle the case.

He said the magistrates had tried to undermine him politically, and accused them of "violating basic constitutional principles" such as the right to a private life by wiretapping on guests who attended his parties.

He said the magistrates had used highly sophisticated technology to spy on his guests, "as if they had to carry out a raid against the Mafia", and added that their behaviour "cannot go without adequate punishment".

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