Italy Scandal: Did State Planes Fly Prostitutes?

ROME -- Opposition leaders on Saturday demanded an inquiry to see if Italian government aircraft flew a bevy of young escorts to Premier Silvio Berlusconi's private parties.

Concern in the country was also growing over whether the billionaire media mogul who allegedly boasted in an intercepted phone conversation that he "did only eight" women one night could concentrate on rescuing Italy from its economic woes.

Italian newspapers filled pages with excerpts from transcripts of intercepted phone conversations of jailed southern businessmen, Gianpaolo Tarantini, who is being investigated for allegedly arranging and paying for women to prostitute themselves with the premier at parties at Berlusconi's private residences in Rome, the Sardinia seacoast, and near Milan.

Intercepted conversations that are part of probes may be published once they are officially deposited in the courthouse where the prosecutors are based, in this case, in Bari, southeast Italy.

Berlusconi, who turns 75 later this month, has denied ever paying for sex. But he has boasted of his a weakness for young, beautiful women, an inclination cited by his second wife, who is divorcing him.

Prostitution is not a crime in Italy, but exploiting women for sex, as Tarantini is alleged to have done to try to curry favors with Berlusconi to win state contracts, is. In a separate probe, Tarantini is jailed for allegedly extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Berlusconi. The premier says he gave Tarantini and Tarantini's wife, who was also arrested, money because he is a generous man who was trying to help a "family in need."

Milan daily Corriere della Sera quoted the premier as telling Tarantini in one telephone call that he had to go that evening in Milan because the plane at his disposition was only available then. Tarantini then purportedly asks Berlusconi if he and some of the women could go with him from Rome to Milan, and the premier replies "you can."

Leoluca Orlandi of the opposition centrist Italy of Values party insisted that Berlusconi say if government planes "paid with taxpayer money" flew paid escorts to the premier's private soirees. He added in a statement that his party officially asked that the premier's office conduct an urgent inquiry.

Corriere della Sera cautioned its readers that in running four full pages of transcripts it left out "the heavier or more vulgar passages, as well as detailed sexual descriptions" that were picked up in the phone calls that were intercepted by Italy's financial police corps.

Rome daily La Repubblica quoted Berlusconi telling Tarantini in one call in early 2009 that one night 11 women were lined outside his room. The premier went on to confide that "I only did eight of them because I couldn't do it anymore," adding that while "you can't do all of them" the next morning he felt "well, satisfied with my ability to resist."