Defiant Italian PM says prostitution probe doomed

Silvio Berlusconi allegedly paid for sex with a teenage nightclub dancer.

Updated: Jan 16, 2011, 09:25 AM IST

Rome: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi lambasted on Saturday an inquiry into allegations he paid for sex with a teenage nightclub dancer as a "grotesque" attempt to destroy him politically and promised it would fail.

The investigation comes at a sensitive time for Berlusconi, who is already on the backfoot politically after scraping through a confidence vote last month and losing automatic immunity from prosecution after a court ruling this week.

Milan magistrates on Friday disclosed they were probing whether Berlusconi paid for sex with 17-year-old Karima El Mahroug -- or "Ruby Rubacuori" (Ruby, Robber of Hearts) as she is popularly known -- and pressured police to release her when she was detained for theft. In a statement, Berlusconi expressed indignation at the investigation, describing it variously as unlawful, unlikely, excessive, unacceptable and grotesque.

The 74-year-old media mogul has long maintained that leftist magistrates are waging a personal campaign to oust him from the political scene that he has dominated for nearly two decades.

"Never, in 17 years of intense judicial persecution against my person, have public prosecutors in Milan managed to distort, in a manner so implausible and grotesque, factual reality, constitutional guarantees and a state based on rights," he said.

"We face the umpteenth theorem created specifically to throw mud on my person and my institutional position, in the illusory attempt to eliminate me from the political scene. But this time they have exceeded all limits."

The case of "Ruby”, a Moroccan runaway, caused a media storm last year and instantly made the expression "bunga bunga" -- a term used by the dancer to describe sex parties at the Prime Minister`s residence -- part of the Italian vocabulary.

She says she was paid EUR 7,000 (USD 9,414) after attending a party at Berlusconi`s villa but has denied having sex with him.

Italian media have had a field day reporting on the events and guest list at the parties and opinion polls show the steady stream of stories have undermined Berlusconi`s popularity.

But the Prime Minister, who has been written off many times only to return stronger, has nevertheless seen off the scandals.

Instead, a bigger threat to his political survival has been an acrimonious break last year with longtime ally Gianfranco Fini, which cost him a secure majority in Parliament.

Berlusconi in the past has acknowledged knowing Ruby and making a phone call to police on her behalf last May, but only to help out a girl in need. He also says nothing improper has ever happened at his parties.

He said wiretapping phone conversations of visitors to his private villa near Milan made it seem as if "being guests of the Prime Minister was by itself a serious indicator of crime" and blamed a "judicial plot" hyped up by the media.

"This time, too, they won`t be successful," Berlusconi said in the statement.

Bureau Report