Berlusconi rewarded showgirls with cars, flats and jobs
Silvio Berlusconi rewarded young showgirls and starlets with cars, rent-free apartments and jobs in politics, a lawyer for one of his protégés has admitted in court for the first time.
Pier Maria Corso was speaking today on behalf of Nicole Minetti, 25, an Anglo-Italian former showgirl who has been accused of recruiting 32 young women as prostitutes for the prime minister's so-called "bunga bunga" parties.
He told the court in Milan that Miss Minetti was "absolutely not a brothel keeper", saying she was simply one of "many girls" who were part of the media tycoon's inner circle and had benefited from his largesse.
Miss Minetti, whose mother is British, was working as a model and television starlet when she was plucked from obscurity by Mr Berlusconi and propelled into politics as a councillor for his People of Freedom party in Lombardy's regional assembly.
She is accused of being in charge of a stable of 32 models and aspiring actresses, allocating them apartments paid for by Mr Berlusconi and despatching them to sex parties at his mansion at Arcore, a town outside Milan.
The women were rewarded with money and gifts when they attended the parties, Mr Corso said, but nothing improper took place. The atmosphere was more of a "nightclub" than a "bordello".
"There are those who were given a Land Rover, those who got a Smart car, those who received an apartment in the city centre and those who were elected to a regional assembly. "To be elected in this way is not a crime," he said.
He also denied prosecutors' claims that his client engaged in mock lesbian clinches with Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan-born exotic dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer, whom the 74-year-old prime minister is accused of paying for sex when she was just 17 years old.
Mr Corso said that even if such displays had occurred during the after-dinner parties, they were hardly an offence.
He showed the court a 19th century oil painting by Simeon Solomon, a British pre-Raphaelite painter, called "Sappho and Erinna in the Garden at Mytelene", in which two young women kiss and embrace.
"Is this really a crime?" Mr Corso said, pointing to the painting.
He said the relationship between Miss Minetti and the premier was based on friendship.
"Like everyone else, she has had her highs and her lows in her relationship with the prime minister. In 2009 he had one favourite, and in 2010 another," he said.
The hearing, on Wednesday, was to determine whether Miss Minetti and two other close associates of the prime minister should be sent to trial.
The other two accused are Lele Mora, 55, a talent scout whom prosecutors accuse of recruiting prostitutes for the soirees, and Emilio Fede, 79, a veteran anchorman on one of the prime minister's television channels, who allegedly vetted the women for their looks and discretion.
The case was adjourned until Oct 3.
The trial in which Mr Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with Miss El Mahroug will resume on Monday, but the prime minister's lawyers said he would not turn up in court. Mr Berlusconi denies all the allegations.