Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Berlusconi denies teen sex charges

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has denied in court having sex with an underage girl. (AP)

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi has made a rare court appearance to deny some of the more salacious accusations at the centre of a sex scandal.

The former premier said he never had sex with an underage Moroccan teenager, never paid for sex with any guest at his villa near Milan and denied that so-called "bunga-bunga" parties that he held were in any way sexual.

"The expression 'bunga-bunga' comes from a joke that I have repeated many times, and that has been picked up viciously by the media," Berlusconi said during an appearance at his trial on charges of having paid for sex with Moroccan teen Karima el-Mahroug, known as Ruby, and trying to cover it up.

Berlusconi's declaration was spontaneous, a practice that Italy allows defendants and which does not have the weight of testimony. His lawyers have indicated that Berlusconi does not intend to testify. He said that his long history of legal battles, mostly for his business dealings, also discouraged him from taking the stand.

The case is the first involving the three-time former premier's personal behaviour. Berlusconi stepped down as premier last November after failing to persuade financial markets he could come up with convincing reforms to protect debt-laden Italy from the sovereign debt crisis.

While he is still head of his conservative political movement, the 76-year-old has been coy about whether he intends to run for office next spring when the mandate for a technical government headed by Premier Mario Monti expires.

Berlusconi has repeatedly denied the charges in the sex scandal. In court he said he "never had intimate relations of any kind" with Ms el-Mahroug. He also said he believed she was 24 years old based on her own statements and that she was the niece of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In fact, she was 17 and no relation to Mubarak, who was forced to step down and is in a prison in Cairo.

"I can exclude with absolute certainty that there were ever any scenes of a sexual nature" at the Arcore villa, Berlusconi said, noting that his adult children were present at the parties and that he himself "monopolised attention singing, talking about sports, politics and gossip".

He also said he never paid for sex with any guest and said insinuations that his female guests were escorts had damaged their reputations.

If convicted of the charge of using his influence to cover up a crime, Berlusconi could be barred from public office. That charge stems from calls he made to the Milan police station the night of May 27-28, 2010, after Ms el-Mahroug was picked up on suspicion of theft. She was later released without charges. "I never put pressure on any official with whom I spoke," Berlusconi said. "I simply asked for information."

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