SILVIO Berlusconi paid €127,000 to showgirls expected to testify in his "bunga bunga" prostitution trial.
Lawyers for the former Italian prime minister confirmed yesterday that the payments were made, but were quick to deny they were an attempt to sway the testimony of the women.
Bank records obtained by prosecutors show that the billionaire media tycoon paid €127,000 to Nicole Minetti, an Anglo-Italian starlet who later became a politician in Milan, and Imma and Eleonora De Vivo, twin showgirls who allegedly attended his parties. All three are due to be called as witnesses in Mr Berlusconi's trial, in which he is accused of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute, a Moroccan-born exotic dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heartstealer, and of abusing his office by trying to have her released from police custody.
The trial, which started a year ago, is ongoing, with the next hearing scheduled for Monday. Both Mr Berlusconi and the dancer, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, deny the accusations.
The De Vivo twins are among more than 30 women whom the ex-premier allegedly paid for sex, according to prosecutors. Mr Berlusconi has said he would have had to have the stamina of a 30-year-old to have achieved such a feat.
Miss Minetti is accused in a separate trial of recruiting prostitutes for Mr Berlusconi's "bunga bunga" sex parties.
Mr Berlusconi has insisted the parties were "elegant dinners" for friends and associates.
Prosecutors found the payments were made in the months after the start of the sex trial, in April 2011, leading to speculation that Mr Berlusconi (75), who was prime minister until his resignation in November, was trying to pay off witnesses.
The first payment, of €42,000, was made to the De Vivo twins through an account held by their father, with a further € 30,000 paid last October. A sum of € 15,000 was made to Miss Minetti on October 14 and listed as an "interest-free loan".
A month later the former showgirl, who was allegedly sent to a police station in Milan in May 2010 to take custody of Miss El Mahroug after she was released on theft charges, received a further €40,000.
Niccolo Ghedini, one of Mr Berlusconi's lawyers, said: "Let's remember that these were sums which were paid out through traceable bank transfers, from a personal bank account of Mr Berlusconi. Linking them to the so-called Ruby trial is absolutely spurious and devoid of any foundation.
"In realty Mr Berlusconi, with his usual generosity, was simply trying to help people who, because of the media storm created by the unsubstantiated judicial proceedings, were experiencing times of great professional and economic difficulty. They were totally lawful."
According to a witness, the De Vivos sisters cavorted in their underwear at one of Mr Berlusconi's raucous parties.
Maria Makdoum, a belly dancer, told prosecutors that she went to several private dinners, at the end of which he would say to his guests: "Now let's do the bunga bunga." He explained "it was a sexual thing". (© Daily Telegraph, London)