Underage bellydancer at centre of latest Berlusconi scandal
The arrest and subsequent release of a 17-year-old Moroccan runaway is the latest in a series of sexual scandals to hit the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who media now allege invited an underage girl to parties at his villa.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is back in the spotlight after reports linking him to an underage Moroccan belly dancer.
In a bizarre sequence of media allegations, the Italian premier stands accused of not only inviting an underage girl to parties at his villa, but also of giving her gifts of cash and jewellery.
Police are subsequently investigating links between three of the premier’s aides and allegations of procuring prostitutes for sex.
Scandal involving glamorous young women is not new territory for Berlusconi, with his private life regularly the subject of lurid media reports.
In 2009 the Italian premier was implicated in a series of scandals that led to his wife of 20 years, Veronica Lario, filing for divorce after she accused him of “consorting with minors”.
But the latest reports - involving a 17-year old Moroccan girl who calls herself “Ruby Rubacuori” (Ruby Heartbreaker) - have the potential to do lasting damage to the billionaire media tycoon’s reputation.
‘No sexual relations with the girl’
According to reports in the Italian media, when police arrested “Ruby” on suspicion of stealing 3,000 euros, she told officers she had been to a number of parties at Berlusconi's villa in Arcore, near Milan.
In an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, “Ruby” - whose real name appears to be Karima Keyek - said she had been invited to a party hosted by Mr Berlusconi on Valentine’s Day.
She said in the interview, however, that it was the only time she had been to the villa.
She also claims that before she left that party – where she insists she did not have sex with the Italian prime minister – Berlusconi gave her 7,000 euros in cash and a Damiani necklace.
Berlusconi's lawyers also strongly deny any suggestion the prime minister may have had sexual relations with the girl.
The ‘Bunga, Bunga’ game
But leaked details from the Milan inquiry appear to suggest she told police she had been invited to Berlusconi’s villa a number of times, and that on one occasion a party finished with an erotic game called “Bunga, Bunga”.
On the basis of this evidence, three people close to Berlusconi are now under investigation for allegedly aiding and abetting prostitution.
One of these three, former showgirl Nicole Minetti, now a member of parliament for Berlusconi’s party, actually arrived at the police station to pick “Ruby” up following her arrest.
The police officer in charge of the inquiry said in another media report on Saturday that he had received a call from the Prime Minister’s office saying the girl was in fact the granddaughter of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
‘I love life, I love women’
Berlusconi responded to the media storm with the trademark brazenness which had helped him survive the 2009 scandals.
Insisting that he had done nothing inappropriate in securing Ruby’s release, Berlusconi nevertheless said that he was proud of his lifestyle.
“I've got nothing to clarify,'' Berlusconi said on Friday. “I'm a playful person, full of life. I love life, I love women.''
“Nobody can make me, at my age, change my lifestyle, of which I am absolutely proud,'' the 74-year-old told reporters in Brussels.
Referring to Ruby’s release, he added: “I have not influenced anybody. Since this person (Ruby) had depicted a tragic life situation to me, I have decided to help her.''
Calls for resignation
Berlusconi may need a touch more than the usual defiance to get through this latest scandal, which has seen renewed calls for his resignation.
The Italian premier, nicknamed “il Cavalieri” (the cavalier), is already facing open rebellion from breakaway ally Gianfranco Fini and risks losing his parliamentary majority. His poll ratings have slumped and Italians are increasingly wary of his blithe promises on the economy.
For Pierluigi Bersani, of the opposition Democratic Party, Berlusconi “cannot stay for a minute longer in a public role that he has betrayed so indecently,” while the Italy of Values party urges his resignation “if not for the benefit of the Italians, then certainly for his own because he needs treatment before it is too late”.
Even the Catholic Church, which has often been forgiving Berlusconi’s antics, has been unusually critical.
“If it is true that he had a minor at his house – and not just for a simple visit but also to pay her – this would be very serious, a profound violation of human dignity at the expense of an immigrant who is both vulnerable and in need,” Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto Bruno Forte said at the weekend.