The key witness at Silvio Berlusconi's sex trial who failed to appear to testify in court this week has shown up in Mexico and will not be back until January, her lawyer said on Tuesday.
Karima El Mahroug, better known by her stage name of "Ruby the Heartstealer" was due to give evidence in Milan on Monday in the case in which the former Italian prime minister is accused of paying her for sex when she was under age.
The court ordered police to hunt down El Mahroug after her shock no-show which, just days after Berlusconi announced he was running for office again, came as a reminder of the sex scandals that plagued his last government.
The nightclub dancer's lawyer, Paola Boccardi, who said at the trial that she did not know where her client was, told Reuters on Tuesday that El Mahroug had got in touch to say she was in Mexico with her boyfriend and baby, and would be back next month.
Boccardi said El Mahroug was "sorry" about the trouble that her absence had caused but that she would not make it back by December 17, when the next trial hearing has been set.
Prosecutor Ilda Boccassini said in court that El Mahroug's absence was a deliberate delaying tactic orchestrated by Berlusconi's lawyers to avoid a verdict in the trial until after an election which is expected in February.
The 76-year-old billionaire said last week he would seek re-election after his party abruptly withdrew support from Prime Minister Mario Monti's government, prompting Monti to announce he would resign early.
Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with El Mahroug at parties thrown in his lavish villas when she was under 18, which is the minimum legal age for prostitution in Italy.
The trial, in which dozens of aspiring showgirls have described so-called "Bunga Bunga" parties at Berlusconi's residences, is the most sensational of his legal cases and has been getting huge media attention in Italy and abroad.
Berlusconi denies all charges and El Mahroug, who is now 20, has said she never had sex with him.
The centre-right leader is also accused of abusing his powers when he was still prime minister to have El Mahroug released from police custody when she was briefly held over theft allegations.
An aide told the trial Berlusconi mistakenly thought El Mahroug was the granddaughter of Hosni Mubarak and he believed he was doing the former Egyptian dictator a favour.
(Reporting by Sara Rossi, writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Rosalind Russell)