ROME -- Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a Milan court Friday that he had never had sex with an underage Moroccan girl and that the so-called "bunga bunga" parties with sexy games and stripteases at his home were instead lively dinners followed by amusing shows in his private theater.
Berlusconi, 76, also told the court that he had never pressured police to release Karima el-Marough, the Moroccan teenager also known as “Ruby Heart-Stealer,” when she was arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of theft.
The former leader is accused of paying for sex with el-Mahroug, a sometime nightclub dancer, when she was 17, and of abuse of power for allegedly asking police to release her to one of his aides rather than to foster care where she might divulge details about his parties. El-Mahroug has also denied having sex with Berlusconi.
In what the Italian trial system allows as “spontaneous” remarks, Berlusconi spoke uninterrupted for more than an hour to say that his dinner parties were convivial occasions where guests spoke about politics, sports, told some jokes and listened to music.
“I can say with absolute tranquillity that there was never anything of a sexual nature” during the now-legendary evenings, he said, which often ended with entertainment that was “never vulgar or scandalous.”
The term “bunga bunga,” which went viral after it was divulged in the Italian media, was simply a line from a joke that was misused by news organizations that have always opposed him politically, he said.
Berlusconi told the court that el-Mahroug had described herself as a 24-year-old Egyptian with family links to then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Berlusconi was derided in the Italian press for saying that he called the police station where she was being held in order to avoid an diplomatic incident with Egypt.
The “Ruby” incident grew into a much larger investigation that revealed the participation of dozens of showgirls and would-be starlets in parties at Berlusconi’s mansion in Arcore, a suburb of Milan.
According to transcripts of wiretaps and testimony from some of the young women, he gave large sums of money to those who participated in the parties, as well as paid their rent and bought them cars.
Berlusconi was accompanied in court Friday by his two lawyers, Pietro Longo and Niccolo Ghedini, both members of parliament with Berlusconi's PDL party.
As he has in the past, Berlusconi denied that he has ever paid for sex. He said that his private life had been the object of “nearly maniacal” attention.
He was forced to resign as prime minister last November because of Italy’s financial and economic crisis, but his authority had already been seriously weakened at home and abroad by the sex scandals.
-- Sarah Delaney