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Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi faces a new trial for alleged witness tampering and pay-offs in the so-called "Ruby" case and his notorious "bunga bunga" sex parties, reports said Saturday.

Officials who spoke to reporters said a judge had set April 5 as the date for fresh proceedings against the 80-year-old tycoon who prosecutors suspect bought the silence of call girls and others.

The charges stem from Berlusconi's previous trial for allegedly paying for sex with young women, the best-known being an exotic dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer, who was under 18 at the time.

Berlusconi was initially convicted and sentenced to seven years in jail for soliciting minors for prostitution and abusing his power.

But he was cleared in 2015 following an appeal. The judge said he could not have known that Ruby -- real name Karima El-Mahroug -- was a minor.

The new trial will focus on accusation that the ex-premier paid more than 10 million euros ($10.7-million) between 2011 and 2015, in cash, gifts, cars, housing, payment of bills and medical expenses, to guests at his Arcore residence near Milan, to testify in his favour.

He said in his defence that he was simply being generous. His lawyer, Federico Cecconi, attacked the notion that this should be a crime.

"There is a concrete chance of a judge agreeing that an offence of generosity has been committed," Cecconi said sardonically.

El-Mahroug was allegedly showered with gifts worth seven million euros.

She testified that she did not have sex with Berlusconi, claiming she was lying when recorded on a wiretap telling friends the contrary.

Frustrated prosecutors emerged from that trial determined to prove that many witnesses had lied under oath after being bought off.

Billionaire businessman Berlusconi has beaten numerous criminal charges over the years with his only conviction to date being one for corporate tax fraud, which led to him being kicked out of parliament.

The new trial follows the opening of proceedings against around 20 people accused of conspiring to protect the former prime minister. That case opened this month but was adjourned to July 3 for legal reasons.

Even if convicted there is little chance of Berlusconi ending up behind bars because of Italy's restrictions on penal sanctions against the elderly.

Berlusconi remains the leader of his Forza Italia party but, with its fortunes on the decline, his political influence has waned.

AFP

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