Brushing off questions about any possible resignation, Premier Silvio Berlusconi insisted Thursday that he's been Italy's best premier ever and said he was considering suing the woman at the center of his sex scandal.
Patrizia D'Addario, a self-proclaimed prostitute, claims she tape-recorded Berlusconi during a night she says they spent together at the premier's home.
The left-leaning newsweekly L'Espresso obtained copies of the tapes, including one in which a man it identified as Berlusconi is heard telling D'Addario to wait for him on the big bed while he showers.
Berlusconi said Thursday he was considering taking legal action. He said he had been the "victim of an attack by a person who wanted to create a scandal" — an apparent reference to D'Addario.
Berlusconi repeated his insistence that he "didn't pay a lira, a euro, for a sexual favor" and never had.
He spoke at a press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero after an Italian-Spanish summit on Sardinia.
"I say this also because, for those who love to conquer, the joy and the most beautiful satisfaction is in the conquest," he said, as an expressionless Zapatero looked on. "If you have to pay, I ask you, what joy is there?"
Berlusconi has been under fire for months ever since his wife announced she was divorcing him because of his fondness for younger women. While polls indicate Berlusconi still has the support of most Italians, the scandal has strained the conservative premier's relations with the Catholic Church and a key political ally.
At the press conference, Berlusconi was asked whether he might consider resigning given his battles with the Italian media over the sex scandal and the tensions with the church and Gianfranco Fini, who merged his right-wing National Alliance with Berlusconi's party earlier this year.
Berlusconi at first responded by saying the journalist clearly only read the left-leaning dailies that have been at the forefront of exposing the scandal.
But later, Berlusconi boasted of his government's longevity.
"I sincerely believe I have been the best (premier) that Italy has had in its 150-year history, and I base that on what I've done and what I'm doing," he declared.
The scandal broke last spring, when the 72-year-old premier's wife, Veronica Lario, said she was divorcing him, citing his presence at the 18th birthday party of a Naples model and his party's lineup of TV starlets as candidates for European Parliament elections.
Berlusconi said Thursday that three candidates who attended a course his party offered had all been well-educated, multilingual, sophisticated women who were doing a fine job representing Italy in Europe.
After Lario's accusations, several young women including D'Addario went public with stories that they were paid to attend parties at Berlusconi's homes by a Berlusconi acquaintance, Gianpaolo Tarantini.
Tarantini has apologized for creating a scandal for the premier. He says he reimbursed the women for travel and other expenses but that Berlusconi never knew about it.
The premier on Thursday confirmed that he had been at a few functions with Tarantini, but he stressed that the "beautiful women" Tarantini brought along were his own friends, not Berlusconi's.