MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian court on Saturday ordered ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial on charges he bribed witnesses to silence them over accusations he paid for sex with young women.
Berlusconi was acquitted in 2014 of charges of having had sex with Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan who is better known by her stage name Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was 17.
Prosecutors later alleged that around 10 million euros ($11 million) were paid to corrupt the witnesses in the case, of which, they said, El Mahroug received 7 million.
Berlusconi was to have stood trial with others facing corruption charges but his case was separated from that group because of health problems following heart surgery.
Berlusconi denies all wrongdoing. His trial is due to start on April 5.
Among those being tried in the separate, related corruption trial are 16 women who took part in Berlusconi's so-called "Bunga Bunga" parties at his residences.
Berlusconi's lawyer. Federico Cecconi. rejected the accusations, acknowledging that Berlusconi helped some of the girls financially but insisting he did not bribe them. "There is a risk that what will go on trial here is generosity," he said.
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.
(Reporting By Manuela D'Alessandro writing by Philip Pullella; editing by Mark Heinrich)