The wiretaps emerged days after prosecutors opened an investigation into Berlusconi on charges that he compensated Moroccan-born Karima el-Mahroug, nicknamed “Ruby Rubacuori,” or “Ruby Heart-Stealer,” for sex at his villa outside Milan when she was a minor. In wiretaps, Mahroug said she had been attending parties at Berlusconi’s villa since she was 16.
Berlusconi, 74, who denies all wrongdoing and says he did not know Mahroug was a minor, is also accused of helping to get her released from police custody when she was detained for theft last spring. Now 18, she said she had asked Berlusconi for €5 million ($6.7 million) to keep quiet, according to wiretaps published on Tuesday in the Italian press.
But Mahroug is apparently only a face in the crowd. Prosecutors said this week that “a significant number” of young women had prostituted themselves to the prime minister, obtaining cash or rent-free housing in exchange for sex. In Italy, where a facade of Roman Catholic morality masks a high tolerance for illicit romance, Berlusconi has weathered scandals for years.
But this time, with the prime minister facing possible criminal charges and with wiretaps presenting a picture of a sordid world of orgies and of blackmail by call girls, things are beginning to look different.
In one wiretapped conversation published on Tuesday in La Repubblica, Mahroug said the prime minister had offered to pay her to keep quiet about her detention for theft. “He called me, telling me, ‘Ruby, I’ll give you as much money as you want, I’ll pay you, I’ll cover you in gold, but the important thing is that you hide everything; don’t tell anyone anything.’ ”
The scandal has a cast of characters that would fill an entire soap opera season. Also under investigation are Emilio Fede, 79, one of Berlusconi’s oldest friends and the director of a news programme owned by his company, Mediaset; and Lele Mora, 55, an agent for television personalities.
The authorities are also investigating Nicole Minetti, 25, a former dental hygienist and now a politician for Berlusconi’s party in Lombardy, who is accused of helping manage the young women in Berlusconi’s orbit, including intervening with the local police when Mahroug was questioned about a theft last May.
Prosecutors say the three helped procure attractive young women, many of whom had appeared on the reality television shows that have been a staple on Berlusconi’s television channels for years, for parties at Berlusconi’s villas. The wiretaps published Tuesday seriously damage the superman image that Berlusconi helped cultivate.
In a conversation published in Corriere della Sera, one young woman named by prosecutors in the prostitution inquiry complained about the prime minister’s looks, saying: “He’s more dead than alive. He’s even become ugly. He should just give up. I hope he’s more generous.”
In another transcript published in Corriere della Sera, Mahroug compared herself to Noemi Letizia, a woman whose 18th birthday party Berlusconi attended in the spring of 2009, weeks before his wife filed for divorce, who said she called him “Daddy.” Other wiretapped conversations told of parties in which Berlusconi, Fede and Mora would spend evenings with dozens of women, who would strip down to their underwear while the men watched.
In a televised address on Sunday, a tense-looking Berlusconi, his face plastered with pancake makeup, attacked the magistrates investigating him, defended his right to privacy and denied that he had ever paid for sex.