ROME—Italian prosecutors requested that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stand trial on charges of patronizing an underage woman for sex and abusing his powers in an attempt to cover up the relationship.
In a request filed Wednesday to a Milan judge, prosecutors alleged Mr. Berlusconi compensated Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan dancer who goes by the nickname "Ruby," for sexual favors when she was 17 years old, according to a statement from prosecutors.
Prosecutors also requested that the Mr. Berlusconi be indicted on charges of abuse of power for making a phone call to police in May 2010 to allegedly press for the young woman's release from police custody. The call, prosecutors allege, was made to prevent authorities from questioning the youngwoman about her ties to the Italian leader.Mr. Berlusconi called the request "laughable" and "shameful."
"The only objective of these farcical and groundless trials is to defame me in the media," Mr. Berlusconi told reporters.
Piersilvio Cipolotti, a lawyer for Mr. Berlusconi, said there was "no evidence whatsoever" that Mr. Berlusconi had sexual relations with Ms. El Mahroug. Mr. Cipolotti also denied Mr. Berlusconi put any pressure on police when he phoned them in May to ask for the release of Ms. El Mahroug, who had been detained for allegedly stealing cash from an acquaintance.
Ms. El Mahroug, who has denied having sex with Mr. Berlusconi, hasn't been under investigation as part of the probe and is considered an injured party in the case, prosecutors say. Mr. Berlusconi has also publicly denied having sex with Ms. El Mahroug.
If Mr. Berlusconi is indicted, Italy's billionaire conservative premier would have to stand a fourth criminal trial; he is already facing trials on charges of bribery, tax fraud and embezzlement—all charges he has repeatedly denied.
Any trial on the new charges, however, would delve into the media mogul's lavish personal lifestyle—an area the premier considers off-limits to the public. So far, prosecutors' monthslong investigation into the premier's alleged relations with Ms. El Mahroug—who attended private parties Mr. Berlusconi regularly hosted at his villas—hasn't significantly weakened public support for the prime minister, partly because many Italians believe Mr. Berlusconi's argument that he is being persecuted by left-wing prosecutors and the media.
The 74-year-old premier and Ms. El Mahroug have both said she attended "normal dinners" at the premier's villa, where she received gifts from the premier, including thousands of euros in cash.
A trial would involve public and detailed testimony about the parties, which have been heavily criticized by Italy's opposition politicians, many prominent Italian women and Catholic officials. Under Italian law, prostitution isn't a crime, but it is illegal to pay a minor for sexual relations.
A trial could also further destabilize Mr. Berlusconi's wobbly center-right governing coalition and hamper the government's attempts to fulfill its agenda, which includes badly needed measures to spur economic growth and overhaul Italy's sluggish justice system. The Northern League, a formerly separatist party that is the linchpin of Mr. Berlusconi's governing coalition, has threatened to seek early elections if the government fails to enact one of its promised measures: the decentralization of public spending.
Speaking on Wednesday, Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, said the premier "has his faults," but criticized prosecutors for seeking an "all-out war" with Mr. Berlusconi and his supporters in Parliament.
Prosecutors in January filed hundreds of pages of court documents, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, to Parliament that included wire-tapped conversations of women describing how they competed for the premier's attention during late-night soirees at his Milan villa, donning nurse uniforms and other outfits, and then were given money or gifts.
The court documents also detail routine money transfers from one of Mr. Berlusconi's bank accounts to the alleged prostitutes. The documents were filed to Parliament because, under Italian law, the lower house has to approve any request by prosecutors to search a lawmaker's properties.
Mr. Berlusconi, in his capacity as premier, is a member of the lower house, which ultimately rejected the prosecutors' request. Mr. Berlusconi has described the investigation as an invasion of his privacy and criticized prosecutors for tapping the cellphones of young women and other members of his entourage for months.
In the indictment request filed on Wednesday, prosecutors allege Ms. El Mahroug attended several soirees between February and May of 2010 and that she had sexual relations with the premier at his villa. To speed up the legal process, prosecutors requested that Mr. Berlusconi's potential trial skip preliminary hearings, saying there is "clear evidence" to support the charges, according to the prosecutors' statement.
They said the evidence filed to the court includes wiretaps of the premier himself that haven't been publicly disclosed. Mr. Cipolotti said the premier's office is shielded from wiretaps under Italian law, adding that Mr. Berlusconi's legal team would challenge any attempt to admit wiretaps of the premier as evidence in court.
Over his 16 years in politics, Mr. Berlusconi has faced several criminal trials that have ended in acquittals or have been dismissed after the statute of limitations expired. His government has repeatedly passed laws that shield Mr. Berlusconi and other top officials from prosecution only to see them struck down by Italy's high court. Mr. Berlusconi's government has for several months been trying to pass a law in parliament that would place time limits on trials, forcing judges to throw criminal cases out of court regardless of whether the statute of limitations has expired.
Questo è quanto la stampa italiana pensa del nostro Presidente del Consiglio. E lui continua a dire, "chi pagherà?", beh saremo noi cittadini a pagare le sue figuracce, come sempre