Women hold Berlusconi's fate in their hands

A panel of three women will judge Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in April - the supreme irony for an ageing Latin lover notorious for his sexist jokes and his taste for voluptuous bimbos.

Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana in an editorial said the prostitution case evoked the spirit of Nemesis -- the Greek goddess of vengeance. "You Berlusconi used women, now they will judge you," the weekly said.

The ancient Greek divinity seems an appropriate symbol for an inquiry in which Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and then getting her out of police custody in order to hide his crime.

The charges - vehemently denied by Berlusconi - revolve around Moroccan-born pole dancer Karima El Mahroug, nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer" whose testimony is a vital part of the prosecution's case.

Ruby and the dozens of women alleged to have taken part in raunchy nights at Berlusconi's residences are far from being the only women in the scandal.

The three judges in the case - selected randomly by a computer - all turned out to be women: Giulia Turri, Carmen D'Elia and Orsolina De Cristofaro.

But there is also a key prosecutor in the case, Ilda Boccassini, who has already led numerous corruption investigations against Berlusconi.

The examining magistrate who on Tuesday approved a request from prosecutors to put Berlusconi on trial on sex crime and abuse of power charges is also a woman, as was the police officer pressured by Berlusconi to release El Mahroug.

For many Italian women, this umpteenth Berlusconi scandal is the last straw. Some 500,000 women took to the streets of dozens of Italian cities last weekend to say "basta" to the playboy billionaire and to complain more generally about women getting ahead via the bedrooms of powerful men. Giulia Bongiorno, a former member of Berlusconi's ruling People of Freedom party and now one of his leading critics, told a crowd in Rome during protest:"The raunchy parties have become a way of selecting a ruling class."

Bongiorno said the issue had nothing to do with morality, but philosopher Roberta De Monticelli said: "This really is a moral question." Italian feminist Ida Dominjanni said: "The women who have had anything to do with the 'Sultan' whether they are famous or anonymous, enemies or friends, have all predicted his fall... It's the end of seductive populism."

Commentators say the beginning of the end for Berlusconi came in April 2009 when his long-suffering second wife Veronica Lario filed for divorce, saying she could no longer be with a man who "cavorts with minors".

She said Berlusconi was "a dragon to whom young virgins offer themselves." If prosecutors can prove that Berlusconi knew that Ruby was a minor and paid her to have sex with him he risks up to three years in prison. If they prove the abuse of power charge he could get a sentence of up to 12 years. Leftist daily 'La Repubblica' said the true embodiment of Berlusconi's Nemesis is Rosy Bindi, chairwoman of the main opposition Democratic Party. When Berlusconi mockingly said she was "more beautiful than intelligent" in 2009, the strict Catholic replied: "I am not a woman at your disposal."

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