Berlusconi shows up for prostitution trial

Silvio Berlusconi made a rare appearance at his trial Friday in Milan, taking a front-row seat to hear police officials called by prosecutors who allege that he paid for sex with an underage Moroccan prostitute and then used his office to try to cover it up.

The prosecutors hope to bolster their contentions that Berlusconi, Italy's former premier, told authorities that the Moroccan girl, then 17, was related to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Among those testifying was police official Piero Ostuni, who told the court that he received a phone call in May 2010 from Berlusconi's office.

"I didn't believe that the girl was, in fact, really Mubarak's niece," Ostuni testified. Among reasons cited for skepticism was police knowledge that the girl, Karima el-Mahroug, a nightclub dancer who goes by the stage name of Ruby the Heart Stealer is Moroccan, not Egyptian like Mubarak.

The former prostitute, El-Mahroug, has denied having sex with Berlusconi. She has said she attended, at Berlusconi's private villas, some soirees, along with many other young women. The gatherings have become known as "bunga bunga" parties.

The media mogul has denied all wrongdoing. Prostitution is legal in Italy, but paying for sex with a minor is a crime.

Police official Giorgia Iafrate also testified Friday about the night in 2010 that the teenager was detained at a Milan police station after a roommate of hers made a theft allegation.

Iafrate told the court that after Ostuni called her to tell her about the Mubarak-relationship claim, she went to talk to the girl in custody.

"I asked her if she were Mubarak's niece and she told me no, and she told me that sometimes she says she is," Iafrate testified.

Berlusconi made no comment to the court, but during a lunch break he spoke to journalists about recent testimony by young female party guests that some had dressed up like nuns and then stripped down to their underwear.

The former premier, who resigned in November under pressure from Italy's financial crisis, brushed off that description. He said the costume-wearing was part of "burlesque contests."

He also spoke about his paying money to some of the women at the party who are expected to testify at the trial. Berlusconi's lawyer had previously confirmed such payments.

Berlusconi told journalists he was just trying to help. "I maintain these girls because they had their life ruined by this trial," Berlusconi said.