Rome: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday said he has been in a steady relationship since separating from his wife, as he stepped up efforts to beat back allegations that he paid for sex with a nightclub dancer.
The surprise announcement from the self-confessed lover of beautiful women comes as Berlusconi faces growing pressure over a prostitution probe in which he is suspected of paying to sleep with 17-year-old Karima El Mahroug at his private parties.
In a video message to supporters shown on Italian television, Berlusconi attacked magistrates as having acted "illegally" and "unacceptably" and denied ever paying for sex.
"It`s absurd to even think that I would pay to have sex with a woman. It`s something that has never happened even once in my life. I would consider it degrading," he said.
"Since I separated -- though I`d never wanted to say it to avoid exposing her to the media -- I have had a stable relationship of affection with a person, who was obviously often with me at those evenings and would certainly never have allowed, at or after dinner, those absurd things some newspapers have conjured up."
Italian media have had a field day reporting on the alleged antics at Berlusconi`s parties ever since El Mahroug -- better known as Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby, Robber of Hearts) -- described them as "bunga bunga" parties in a reference to lewd activity.
Berlusconi has given no hint of any steady relationship since separating in 2009 from his wife Veronica Lario, who filed for divorce after the Prime Minister attended the birthday party of an aspiring 18-year-old Neapolitan model. She said she could not stay with a man with "frequents minors”.
Since then the 74-year-old media mogul has successfully seen off a series of sex scandals, unapologetically saying he was "no saint" after audio recordings of intimate conversations purportedly between him and an escort were leaked in 2009.
But the latest probe by Milan magistrates comes at a difficult time for Berlusconi, who narrowly scraped through a confidence vote last month and then saw Italy`s top court strike down part of a law that gave him immunity from prosecution.
He had already called the allegations absurd and says the probe is a politically-motivated attempt to eliminate him from the Italian political scene he dominates.
An informal poll on the Sky TG24 news channel on Sunday showed 60 percent of respondents did not share his view that the probe was just an effort to sling mud against his name.
The leader of the centre-left opposition, Pier Luigi Bersani, laughed off Berlusconi`s video message as an "embarrassing and distressing spectacle”.
Ruby has denied having sex with the Prime Minister, but says Berlusconi gave her EUR 7,000 (USD 9,368) the first time she attended a party at his house because she was in financial trouble.
"He knew the difficulties I had since I had just moved to Milan," she told Sky TG24 on Saturday, recounting dinners at the Prime Minister`s house where there was much singing, jokes and food dressed up in Italian flag colours.
Paying for sex with a prostitute under the age of 18 is an offence in Italy. Berlusconi is also being probed on suspicion of improperly pressuring police to release Ruby when she was detained for theft last year.
Berlusconi`s lawyers say they have not decided whether the Prime Minister will appear in court after being summoned to do so at the end of this week.