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Probe call adds to Berlusconi woes

Opposition leaders have demanded an inquiry to determine if Italian government aircraft flew a bevy of young escorts to premier Silvio Berlusconi's private parties.

Concern was also growing in Italy over whether the billionaire media mogul who allegedly boasted in an intercepted phone conversation that he "did only eight" women in one night can concentrate on rescuing Italy from its severe economic woes.

Italian newspapers were filled with transcripts of intercepted phone conversations of a jailed southern businessman, Gianpaolo Tarantini, who is being investigated for allegedly arranging and paying for women to prostitute themselves with the prime minister at parties at Berlusconi's private residences in Rome, the Sardinia sea coast, and near Milan.

Intercepted conversations that are part of investigations may be published once they are officially deposited in the court - in this case, in Bari, south-east Italy.

Mr Berlusconi, who is 75 this month, has denied ever paying for sex. But he has boasted of his weakness for young, beautiful women, an inclination cited by his second wife, who is divorcing him.

Prostitution is not a crime in Italy, but exploiting prostitutes - as Tarantini is alleged to have done to try to curry favour with Mr Berlusconi to win state contracts - is.

In a separate investigation, Tarantini was jailed for allegedly extorting hundreds of thousands from Mr Berlusconi. The premier says he gave Tarantini and his wife, who was also arrested, money because he is a generous man who was trying to help a "family in need".

In a separate case, Mr Berlusconi is on trial in Milan for allegedly paying for sex with a Moroccan teenager. Mr Berlusconi denies the accusation, and says that trial, as well as several corruption cases that were brought against him over dealings in his business empire, is part of a plot by left-leaning prosecutors who want to topple him from power.

The Milan daily Corriere della Sera quoted the premier as telling Tarantini in one telephone call that he had to go that evening to Milan because the plane at his disposition was only available then. Tarantini then purportedly asks Mr Berlusconi if he and some of the women could go with him from Rome to Milan, and the premier replies: "You can."

Leoluca Orlandi of the opposition centrist Italy of Values party insisted that Mr Berlusconi say if government planes "paid with taxpayer money" flew paid escorts to his private soirees. Mr Orlandi said his party had asked the premier's office to conduct an urgent inquiry.


From Belfast Telegraph