Berlusconi refuses court-ordered medical check-up, trial to continue

FILE PHOTO: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gestures as he is discharged from Milan's San Raffaele hospital, where he was being treated after testing positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and diagnosed with mild pneumonia, in Milan, Italy, September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo//File Photo

MILAN (Reuters) - A trial over bribery charges against Silvio Berlusconi will continue after the former Italian prime minister refused to undergo a court-ordered check-up that was meant to determine whether he was fit to be tried, judicial sources said.

A Milan court last week ordered an expert opinion on Berlusconi's health after his trial had been repeatedly delayed due to frequent hospital visits.

Berlusconi said the decision to subject him to an "unlimited psychiatric check-up" was "damaging to my history and my honour", as well as showing "obvious prejudice against me", according to a copy of a statement the politician and businessman deposited with the court and seen by Reuters.

Berlusconi said the trial would proceed in his absence, a fact which his lawyer said was "a serious harm to his defence at a particularly sensitive moment in the proceedings".

The next hearing was originally set for Nov. 17 but the court might seek to bring the date forward, the sources added.

The trial began in 2017, with 84-year-old Berlusconi charged with bribing witnesses in a previous case where he was accused of paying for sex with a minor, in which he was finally acquitted. He has pleaded not guilty.

Berlusconi, who served four terms as prime minister, has been in and out of hospital this year after contracting COVID-19 in September last year and speculation has mounted over a serious deterioration of his health. He has been hospitalised twice in recent weeks.

Berlusconi's last government collapsed in 2011 amid a debt crisis and scandal over his notorious "bunga bunga" sex parties attended by models and a teenage girl nicknamed Ruby.

Those parties gave rise to the original "Ruby" trial at which he was acquitted in 2015.

Berlusconi has also been tried for numerous alleged financial crimes, and was found guilty of tax fraud in 2013, his only definitive conviction.

His Forza Italia party has lost most of its former support, but remains a significant player on Italy's fragmented political scene.

(Reporting by Alfredo Faieta, writing by Agnieszka Flak, Editing by William Maclean)

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