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Berlusconi says inquiry ‘politically motivated’

on 11/01/2019

“There’s been no graft, no incitement to prostitution, not even of a minor,” Berlusconi said in a television address.

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The prime minister’s comments came as Italy reeled from the news magistrates in the country’s second largest city were accusing Berlusconi of hooking up with prostitutes he kept in rent-free luxury apartments and having sex with an underage prostitute.

While paying for sex with prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, having sex with an underage prostitute has been punishable with a prison sentence since Berlusconi’s right-wing government voted in a law against it in 2006.

The prime minister denounced a “new, very serious attack on the part of the magistrates who have trampled on the laws for political ends” and “want to use the affair as a political weapon”.

The Milan prosecutor’s office announced the investigation on Friday, just a day after a top court ruling partially stripped the prime minister of political immunity.

Prosecutors have demanded Berlusconi submit to interrogation this weekend, but the prime minister dismissed the idea. “My lawyers said that as the Milan tribunal is not qualified (to judge this case) it’s not logical for me to go.”

Berlusconi said the magistrates had tried to undermine him politically, and accused them of “violating basic constitutional principles” such as the right to a private life by wiretapping on guests who attended his parties.

He said the magistrates had used highly sophisticated technology to spy on his guests, “as if they had to carry out a raid against the Mafia”, and added that their behaviour “cannot go without adequate punishment”.

Members of Italy’s opposition parties were quick to react to the prime minister’s speech.

“Maybe Berlusconi doesn’t realise that winning elections doesn’t mean you own the country. No leader can threaten to punish magistrates,” said Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the opposition Union of the Centre party.

Donatella Ferranti, head of the justice commission for the opposition PD party, said “it’s squalid for the prime minister to defend himself in this way on television: the accusations against him are too serious”.

Allegations that the prime minister hand-picked prostitutes for wild parties and paid to have sex with the underage girl, known as Ruby, caused shock waves in Italy and sparked fierce criticism from the Church and opposition parties.

Berlusconi had previously laughed off the enquiry saying he had no intention of resigning. “Are you mad?” he retorted when questioned by journalists. “I’m having fun!”

Earlier on Wednesday, Milan’s prosecutors hit a hitch in their endeavour to prove Berlusconi hooked up with prostitutes when a parliamentary committee stalled over authorising the search warrant.

The prosecutors hope to search the offices of Berlusconi’s trusted sidekick Giuseppe Spinelli, who manages the prime minister’s Fininvest holdings and is suspected of handling money for Berlusconi’s prostitutes, even unwittingly.

Spinelli, whose offices are considered part of Berlusconi’s domain, described the scandal as exaggerated and said cash payments and apartments loaned to the girls involved were merely acts of charity towards women in need.

But the parliamentary committee handling the warrant postponed a decision for at least a week after its rapporteur, a member of Berlusconi’s centre-right party, said he needed more time to read the prosecution’s 389-page document.

In a day of media frenzy, several of the girls involved in the case gave lengthy television interviews voicing their support for Berlusconi, saying the prime minister would help anyone “young, old, ugly and hunchbacked”.

Ruby, a Moroccan whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, denied reports that she had asked Berlusconi for five million euros ($6.7 million) compensation for having sullied her name and swore Berlusconi had never so much as touched her.

Milan’s magistrates, led by mafia-hunter Ilda Boccassini — nicknamed Ilda the Red by Italian media because of to her flame-coloured hair — may be running out of time to find evidence they say is in Spinelli’s offices.

Berlusconi said he was convinced parliament would move to take the case from the Milan prosecutors and hand it over to a special court to try ministers, where it would most likely be dropped.

Media magnate Berlusconi, a notorious womaniser, has claimed he never paid for sex and both he and Ruby, who is now 18, have denied having had sexual relations.


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