ROME Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been ordered to stand trial in April on charges of paying an underage girl for sex and abusing his position to get her out of police custody.
Here are the main elements of the scandal dubbed "Rubygate":
HOW IT DID IT ALL START?
The scandal broke in October last year when newspapers reported that 17-year-old Karima el Mahroug -- a nightclub dancer known by her stage name Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby Heartstealer) -- told magistrates she had attended parties at Berlusconi's private residence near Milan. She called them "bunga bunga" parties, in a reference to sexual activity that occurred at the events.
The scandal began to snowball when newspapers published a transcript of a phone call Berlusconi made to a Milan police chief on May 28 last year, when Ruby was detained on charges of stealing a 3,000-euro bracelet from a friend.
Berlusconi urged the police officer not to send Ruby to a shelter, saying that she was the granddaughter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. El Mahroug was released and entrusted to Nicole Minetti, the prime minister's former dental hygienist who later became a member of the Lombardy regional council.
That prompted opposition leaders and Berlusconi's former ally Gianfranco Fini to demand Berlusconi resign, saying he had abused his position by pressuring police to release Ruby.
WHO IS RUBY?
El Mahroug says she was abused as a child and ran away from home before scoring gigs as a dancer in nightclubs. Pictures of her appeared in the media only with her face blurred until she turned 18 in November. Since then, photos of her posing with sultry pouts have made her an instant national star.
She has stayed in the limelight since then, once tearing up while being interviewed on a talk show and making an appearance at a popular nightclub on the Adriatic coast.
This week she was in a television advertisement promoting a book, in which a man rips off her clothes to leave her talking in her bra and underwear.
WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT RUBY'S ENCOUNTERS WITH BERLUSCONI?
Ruby has told newspapers that she attended parties at Berlusconi's residence three times and said they were "normal dinners" with lots of food, laughter and jokes.
She denies she had sex with Berlusconi, but says the magnate gave her 7,000 euros since she was in financial trouble.
The Corriere della Sera daily, however, has reported that mobile phone records obtained by investigators show that Ruby visited Berlusconi's villa in Arcore at least eight times last year, and that tracking the signal from her phone showed she spent hours at the villa each time, once leaving in the early morning.
IS THE SCANDAL ALL ABOUT RUBY?
Berlusconi's biggest headache undoubtedly comes from the charge that he broke the law by paying for sex with a girl under 18 and abused his power by asking police to free her, but the scandal has also opened the floodgates to a series of revelations that have alternatively shocked and amused Italians.
Some of the most damaging disclosures for Berlusconi have come in the hundreds of pages of documents released last month by magistrates, which describe erotic parties at Berlusconi's home that began with dinner and ended with sex games.
They allege Ruby was just one of several young women who prostituted themselves with Berlusconi, with some of them given free use of apartments in a residential complex on the outskirts of Milan that Berlusconi built during a property boom.
In one account, an Italian agent for starlets who organized some of the parties tells a woman to show up at Berlusconi's residence in a nurse uniform for a "private health visit."
And the mystery of what exactly "bunga bunga" referred to -- which had vexed Italians for months -- was revealed in an account by one woman, Maria, who said the after-dinner activities included raunchy dances and touching.
She says she did a belly dance, while another woman walked around in only a bra and underwear. A Brazilian woman wearing a thong danced a "hard version of a samba" and other girls showed their breasts and bottoms and then went up to the prime minister who touched their private parts, she told magistrates.
The scandal has also drawn in a famous newscaster from Berlusconi's Mediaset empire, a colorful cast of models and aspiring showgirls, and indulged Italians with speculation on topics such as whether naked photos of Berlusconi exist.
(Writing by Deepa Babington)