Berlusconi did pay for sex say Milan prosecutors
PM ‘lying’ when he claims he never had to pay for prostitutes, says dossier handed in to parliament
Have Milan prosecutors finally found the smoking gun - 'the smoking thong' might be more appropriate - that will make Silvio Berlusconi's continued premiership untenable?
They say they have ample evidence that a "significant number of women" prostituted themselves for the prime minister at his Milanese estate in exchange for money and free housing. Most important, they say one of those involved, Karima El Mahroug, was underage.
The details are included in a dossier sent to the Italian parliament in an attempt to gain authorisation to raid the Milan offices of a Berlusconi accountant, Giuseppe Spinelli, prosecutors suspect of handling payments to the women. He is currently protected by parliamentary immunity.
The 300-page document is locked in a safe, but no place is secure enough to stop the tawdry details of Berlusconi's latest sex scandal from leaking out.
Among the evidence in the dossier - according to leaks - are wiretapped conversations in which some of the women claimed "you can't even imagine what goes on," calling Berlusconi's Milan home a "whorehouse" where either you are "ready to do anything, or you get in a taxi and go home".
Indeed, two starkly different realities are unfolding in tandem before the Italian public – one family-friendly version from the prime minister himself, and another X-rated version by the judicial branch he says is out to get him.
Berlusconi claims that he has had a stable - though unnamed - girlfriend since his wife left him, with whom he enjoys "elegant and tranquil" soirees.
But prosecutors paint a very different picture - of young women prostituting themselves at racy parties in exchange for money and apartments in the Milano Due housing complex that the 74-year-old media tycoon built at the beginning of his career.
On national television on Sunday evening, Berlusconi denied having ever paid for sex, saying doing so would have been "degrading to my dignity". Italy "is not a free country" he said, vowing to press on with judicial reform to reign in corrupt magistrates abusing liberal wiretapping laws.
To the nation's sceptical surprise, he also announced that he's had an unnamed secret companion since his divorce. That person, he said, would have disapproved of "those absurd goings-on that certain newspapers have hypothesized".
The revelation has set off a media manhunt for "the Mysterious White Dame of the Cavalier". Exasperated political opponent Gianfranco Fini lamented that he hoped Italy wouldn't have to live through "two months of a permanent soap opera" about Berlusconi while other problems went ignored.
Of course, Berlusconi's infallible grip on power in Italy is already a long-running soap opera, with the tycoon surviving at least 17 investigations since taking office in 1994, as well as the recent double no-confidence vote in Parliament, and street riots that rocked Rome.
The latest episode began to unfold last week when Italy's Constitutional Court stripped his previous immunity from criminal prosecution. Milan magistrates notified Berlusconi the next day about the underage prostitution charges. He also faces three other pending criminal trials for tax fraud and corruption.
At the centre of the prostitution charges is his relationship with the Moroccan-born teenage runaway El Mahroug, otherwise known as exotic dancer Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby the Heart-stealer).
Two months ago it emerged that calls had been made from the prime minister's office to Milan police, asking them to release El Mahroug after a theft arrest. Officers reported being told she was the niece of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. El Mahroug was then released into the care of one of Berlusconi's party faithful, Nicole Minetti.
Minetti, a TV showgirl who was also Berlusconi's dental hygienist before entering politics, is alleged, along with celebrity agent Lele Mora and Mediaset executive Emilio Fede, to have organised and managed the young women's visits to his estate.
An intermediary reportedly handled housing for the women, 14 of whom are named in the Milan court dossier. Cash, computers, costumes and sex toys were taken in weekend raids at Milano Due apartments belonging to 10 of the women (six Italians, a Romanian, a Brazilian and two from the Dominican Republic).
Prosecutors allege Berlusconi paid for sex with El Mahroug last spring when she was still a minor. Adult prostitution is not a crime in Italy, nor is sex with a consensual minor, as long she's over 14. But sex with an underage prostitute - under 18, that is - is punishable by six months to three years in jail.
Ruby's story is that Berlusconi simply offered her a hand after hearing her hard knocks story growing up as a street vendor's daughter. He gave her jewellery, €7,000 in cash and an Audi, she said, but she did not have sex with him. Her story neatly matches the image Berlusconi has cultivated of himself as a self-made millionaire with a big heart who just likes to have fun.
In wiretapped phone conversations, however, she admitted she had asked him for €5 million. On a Facebook site attributed to her, a note was posted on Saturday saying she worries about her safety and fears she'll end up dead.