Wiretaps of Berlusconi's parties capture Italians
ROME – For gossip-loving Italians, it's a feast. To others, it may be more than they ever wanted to know about their premier, Silvio Berlusconi, his purported sexual appetites and parties with topless girls — or, in one case, with a woman told to dress in a sexy nurse's uniform.
Italian newspapers are filled with embarrassing leaks of wiretaps ordered by Milan prosecutors as part of their prostitution probe targeting the 74-year-old Italian leader and his alleged encounters with a Moroccan teenager, known as Ruby.
The premier has denied wrongdoing and denounced the violation of his privacy.
Still, transcripts of the purported conversations involving Ruby, women who attended parties in Berlusconi's villa near Milan and some of the premier's aides and friends offer a glimpse into an indulgent lifestyle that critics say is inappropriate for a public official.
In some purported conversations, Berlusconi's house is described as a brothel with topless girls dancing around; the premier himself is described as a "caricature" by one guest and as having gained weight and having become ugly by another.
Other published wiretaps have a woman identified as Ruby saying that Berlusconi was willing to pay for her silence.
"If even just a third of the mind-blowing lifestyle that emerges from the Milan prosecutors' material is truthful, then we would be faced with the decline of a man who has been an important protagonist of the last 30 years of Italy's public life. I'm talking about Silvio Berlusconi," said a front-page editorial by Libero, a conservative newspaper close to Berlusconi that chose to publish huge portions of the wiretaps this week.
Prosecutors have placed Berlusconi and three associates under investigation, on suspicion that the premier between February and May paid for sex with the Moroccan girl, then a minor, and used his office to cover it up. Prosecutors have said in a document that "a significant number of young women ... have prostituted themselves with Silvio Berlusconi."
Paying for sex with a prostitute is not a crime in Italy, but it is if the prostitute is younger than 18.
Transcripts of the wiretaps — 389 pages — were sent from the Milan prosecutors to a parliamentary commission in Rome examining documents relating to the investigation. For the past days, the wiretaps have been gleefully published on virtually every Italian newspaper's front page. The official document by Milan prosecutors has been widely distributed on file-sharing Internet sites. A person with knowledge of the documents has confirmed some of the material to The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because publishing the wiretaps is a violation of the subjects' privacy.
Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon, has denied ever paying for sex. The premier went on the attack Wednesday when he said the Milan prosecutors should be punished for conducting what he said was an illegitimate and politically motivated probe. He said the prosecutors have employed means and forces "as if they had to carry out a raid against the Mafia."
Ruby has also denied any sexual intercourse, saying this week that Berlusconi never "put a finger on me." She said she lied about her age when she met Berlusconi on Valentine's Day, saying she was 24 instead of declaring her real age, 17.
Ruby turned 18 in November.
In wiretaps printed Tuesday by Italy's leading newspaper Corriere della Sera and confirmed to the AP, Ruby on Oct. 26 talked to her father and told him she was with a lawyer.
"Silvio has told him, 'Tell her that I will pay whatever price she wants, the important thing is that she keep her mouth shut, that she deny everything... that I have never seen a 17-year-old,'" Ruby is purportedly heard telling her father.
In another purported conversation the same day, also published by Corriere and other newspapers, Ruby tells a woman that she has been frequenting Berlusconi's house since the age of 16, but that Berlusconi "thought I was 24 years old."
On the same day, a woman identified as Ruby purportedly says she is seeking €5 million ($6.74 million) from Berlusconi, according to the wiretap confirmed to the AP. However, Ruby denied in a TV interview this week that she ever sought that amount of money.
Other purported conversations suggest wild parties where anything went — and girls were as scantily dressed as they can be on Berlusconi's TV channels.
"You see all sorts of things," Nicole Minetti, one of the Berlusconi associates under investigation, purportedly tells a woman about to attend a Berlusconi party. The woman then told a friend it was like a "(brothel) in which everybody entertains themselves as they wish," and that Berlusconi was like a "caricature," according to the wiretaps.
A man identified as a former provincial representative of Rome is heard recounting the tale of a friend who had been at a Berlusconi party in September conversations printed by Libero and also confirmed to the AP. "There were orgies — not with drugs," Berlusconi was singing and "all girls ... at the end were topless, only in their panties," the man says, according to the wiretaps.
Another wiretap that has caught the attention of the Italian media contains less than flattering comments about Berlusconi. In September, a woman identified as a former contestant of a reality show is heard telling her twin sister that Berlusconi "has gained weight and is uglier. Last year, he was in better shape... Now he has become ugly: but as long as he pays."
A Berlusconi crony is purportedly heard telling a young woman to dress up as a sexy nurse and pretend to examine the premier as a joke. The wiretap even made the Sole 24 Ore, a financial newspaper more used to discussing market fluctuations than sex games.
"Put on the stethoscope," the man purportedly tells the woman in the August conversation, "the nurse little outfit ... and white stockings." The man, identified as Lele Mora, has also been named in the investigation.
At another point in the persecutors' document, an unidentified person tells police that "policewoman and nurse uniforms" were made available to girls attending Berlusconi's parties. The allegation prompted a police union to formally protest.
Giorgio Innocenzi of the Consap police union said in a statement that if the details in the Italian media were to be confirmed, "it would be a very serious (blow) to the high professional standards of women who are in the police forces." He said women would feel uneasy "wearing a uniform that would have been ridiculed in front of the national and international public opinions."
The wiretaps have proved embarrassing for Berlusconi and some of his allies, given the conservative coalition has promoted family values. More than 2,000 Italian women — mothers and daughters, politicians, artists and others — have signed an online petition telling Berlusconi that not all women in Italy are prostitutes or showgirls.
Criticism has mounted from the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, called Thursday for a "more robust morality, a sense of justice and legality" in all citizens and "especially those who have public responsibility of any kind." In the first comments from a Vatican official, Bertone said the Holy See was following "these Italian events with attentiveness and concern."
Berlusconi, whose term runs out in 2013, has vowed to carry on and dismissed any suggestions that the scandal might force him to resign.