World

Berlusconi investigated in teen dancer case

Lawyers for Premier Silvio Berlusconi are confirming that he is under investigation in a prostitution case they call "absurd and groundless."
A Moroccan girl nicknamed Ruby, shown here at a disco in Genoa, Italy, in November, denies having sex with Premier Silvio Berlusconi but says she was paid to attend a party he was at. ((Stringer/Associated Press))

Premier Silvio Berlusconi is under investigation in a prostitution case involving a then 17-year-old Moroccan girl, a case his lawyers on Friday called "absurd and groundless."

Italy's leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, reported that the 74-year-old premier is suspected of having sex with the minor and then abusing his power in trying to cover up the encounters with the girl, nicknamed Ruby by the news media.

Berlusconi's attorneys, Nicolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, later confirmed the investigation, saying the probe represented a "very serious interference in the prime minister's private life that has no precedent in the country's judicial history."

They called the case media-driven and said the allegations "have already been refuted by all witnesses and people directly involved."

According to the BBC and Italian newspapers, the teen is a nightclub dancer named Karima El Mahroug. She denies having sex with Berlusconi but says she was paid 7,000 euros, or roughly $9,230 Cdn, to attend a party he was at last year.

The investigation escalates a long history of accusations of sexual and financial improprieties aimed at Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman who has shaken off the crises and maintained his hold on power.

It comes, however, at a moment of particular vulnerability. The premier has been politically weakened in recent months and a law shielding him from two, unrelated trials in Milan was significantly watered down Thursday by a ruling of Italy's Constitutional Court.

Berlusconi intervened

The Ruby case became public months ago when it emerged that Berlusconi had intervened to secure the release from police custody of the girl, who had been held for theft.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, shown during a news conference Wednesday, is reported to be under investigation in a prostitution case involving a teenage Moroccan girl. ((Shane McMillan/Associated Press))
Berlusconi said at the time that he had done nothing wrong and that he had only intervened to help someone in need. The girl said in newspaper interviews that she had been at the premier's villa and that she lied about being over 18.

The girl has in the meantime turned 18.

Berlusconi's office said it had no immediate comment. Many of his political allies said the latest probe was the latest attempt to hurt the premier by what they say are left-leaning magistrates. The office of Milan prosecutor Antonio Sangermano said he was not available for comment.

According to Corriere, the prosecutors allege that Berlusconi abused his power when he called Milan police on the night of May 27-28 to secure the release of the girl. The prosecutors believe he did so because he wanted to hide the fact he had been her client, according to the report, which did not cite sources.

The ANSA news agency said Milan prosecutors on Friday summoned Berlusconi. Reports also said police searched the offices of two of his aides on Friday.

Daniele Capezzone, a spokesman for Berlusconi's party, said the case was politically motivated.

"If someone … still believes that Silvio Berlusconi can be defeated through judicial means, once again they will be sorely disappointed," he said.