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'Ruby the Heart Stealer' shows up in court for Berlusconi sex trial

Karima El Marough, better known as "Ruby the Heart Stealer," was called to testify over allegations that former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi paid to have sex with her when she was still a minor. NBC's Claudio Lavanga reports.

It was a much-anticipated celebrity moment for the star in the most sensational trial to come out of modern Italian politics.

Karima El Mahroug, better known as "Ruby the Heart Stealer," was met at the High Court in Milan on Monday morning by a pack of shouting photographers. It looked like a red carpet moment, but "Ruby," sporting designer clothes, was heading not for a gala, but for a conversation with the judges in the trial of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The 76-year-old media billionaire is accused of having paid the former nightclub dancer for sex when she was still a minor — a crime that could cost Berlusconi his reputation and 15 years in prison.

Both she and Berlusconi have denied having sexual relations.

Mahroug, now 20, was asked to take the stand in December but went on vacation in Mexico instead. The prosecution alleged that it was a ploy designed to delay a verdict.

This time, the defense requested her testimony, and then reversed itself, asking that she not be required to testify. The panel of three judges agreed that she would not be required to testify in open court, Reuters reported.

Berlusconi's attorneys also made an appeal to halt the trial until after a national election next month, arguing that the proceedings would interfere with Berlusconi’s chances of a political comeback in the Feb. 24-25 polls. The judges dismissed the argument.

The trial's last session is currently scheduled for Feb. 4, meaning that a verdict could come before the election.

With the campaigning under way, the hearing churned up memories of the scandal that hung over the prime minister’s last months in office.

Mahroug, who was a child runaway from Morocco, is alleged to have been one of the main participants in a series of parties at Berlusconi's villa near Milan during which women put on lurid striptease shows, according to the testimony of several young women.

The 76-year-old media billionaire is accused of paying for sex with Mahroug when she was under the age of 18, a crime in Italy, and abusing his office to have her released from police custody in a separate theft incident.

Berlusconi resigned in November 2011.

Now the former prime minister is leading his center-right People of Freedom party into the election. The group’s popularity is edging upward, but it still trails far behind the center-left alliance.

Berlusconi's allies accused the Milan magistrates of trying to sabotage his election bid.

"The PDL is clearly bouncing back, and magistrates are as usual entering the fray," said PDL deputy Enrico Costa.

Regardless of the trial’s outcome, Berlusconi is paying a hefty price for his weakness for the scandal. His wife left him in 2009 claiming she couldn't “live with someone who consorts with minors” and was recently awarded a divorce settlement of $130,000 a day.

Reuters contributed to this report.