ROME – Thirty women. Eighteen parties. Guests willing to supply sex "if the need arises."
Two Italian newspapers published what they described Wednesday as excerpts from prosecutors' interrogation of a businessman who said he paid dozens of women to attend parties at Premier Silvio Berlusconi's Sardinia villa and his Rome residence.
Corriere della Sera and La Stampa reported that Gianpaolo Tarantini told prosecutors in the city of Bari this summer that some of the 30 or so "image girls" were willing to provide sex "if the need arose" at any of the 18 parties.
Among the women Tarantini told prosecutors he paid euro1,000 euros (nearly euro1,500) to was Patrizia D'Addario, an admitted call girl who has claimed in interviews that she spent the night with Berlusconi in Rome. Berlusconi has said he doesn't recognize D'Addario's name or face and has denied he ever paid a woman for sex.
Berlusconi has been under fire for months, ever since his wife denounced his fondness for younger women in announcing she was divorcing him. While polls indicate he still has the support of most Italians, the scandal has begun taking its toll politically, with Berlusconi openly clashing with the Catholic Church and, more recently, a key right-wing ally.
Nevertheless, Berlusconi has continued to insist Italians want him this way, saying Wednesday at a gathering of young party faithful that he loves everyone, including "beautiful women," and joking that the women in the audience who wanted to ask questions should leave their phone numbers with organizers.
He again denounced the media, telling the audience they shouldn't bother reading newspapers — which exposed the Berlusconi parties, D'Addario's claims and, on Wednesday, Tarantini's testimony.
Bari Prosecutor Giuseppe Scelsi, who is leading the probe of Tarantini for alleged exploitation of prostitutes, was not in his office Wednesday. Tarantini's attorney couldn't immediately be located by The Associated Press.
But Bari's new chief prosecutor, Antonio Laudati appeared to indirectly confirm the accuracy of the excerpts when he complained that their publication had "enormously" damaged the investigation and violated citizens' privacy.
"I'm aware of the national and perhaps international pressures that exist now on the Bari prosecutor's office," Laudati said at an inauguration ceremony in Bari, ANSA reported. "So I'm prepared to try to establish along with my colleagues relations with the media that guarantee correct behavior and most importantly the correct development of investigations because violating secrecy always damages investigations."
Italian law forbids prosecutors or lawyers from talking about details of an investigation while a probe is still under way.
Berlusconi, 72, has described himself during the scandal as "no saint," but has denounced what he says is a left-wing media smear campaign and sued several newspapers in Italy and abroad for libel. Tarantini reiterated earlier comments that Berlusconi was unaware some women were paid to attend the parties.
The two newspapers reported that Tarantini told investigators he wanted to get to know Berlusconi in hopes of making contacts that might help business acquaintances gain government contracts.
"Prostitution and cocaine are the ingredients to obtain success in society," La Stampa quoted Tarantini as telling Scelsi.
"I presented them (the women) as my friends, and I kept silent about that sometimes I would pay them," Tarantini was quoted by Corriere della Sera as telling prosecutors.
Prostitution isn't a crime in Italy, but exploitation of a prostitute is, including being a pimp or middleman.