Berlusconi worry over age of girl revealed in wire tap conversations
Wiretapped conversations of Silvio Berlusconi expressing worries over the age of the teenage erotic dancer he is accused of paying for sex have been released for the first time, the day before his trial begins.
Mr Berlusconi (74,) who has refused to turn up for the opening of the trial in Milan today, was recorded discussing the age of the young woman, Karima El Mahroug, who goes by the stage name Ruby the Heart Stealer.
Ms El Mahroug is at the centre of Mr Berlusconi's under-age prostitution trial.
Prosecutors claim he paid her for sex on 13 occasions when she was working as a 17-year-old escort -- a year below the legal age of prostitution in Italy -- and that he then tried to cover up the relationship through an abuse of office.
If the court in Milan finds him guilty, he could be jailed for up to 15 years. If he receives a sentence longer than five years, he would be barred from ever again holding public office. But legal experts say the underage prostitution charge will be hard to prove because both he and Ruby deny having sex.
Taped conversations between the 43 young starlets involved in the case have been leaked to the press for weeks, but Mr Berlusconi's own apparent conversations had not emerged until now.
In the first of three released yesterday, he purportedly speaks with Nicole Minetti, an Anglo-Italian former showgirl and dental hygienist whom Mr Berlusconi propelled into politics as a member of Lombardy's regional council. In the ex- change, recorded on August 1 last year, Ms Minetti (25) warns that a public prosecutor wants to quiz her about Mr Berlusconi's relationship with Moroccan-born Ms El Mahroug.
According to the transcript, a worried-sounding Mr Berlusconi allegedly said: "OK, what is important is that there are various people who can vouch for the fact that (Ruby) gave an age different to her real one.
"Once that happens, there'll be nothing more to say. We just helped her because we took pity on her. Let's hope that it doesn't turn into a mess."
Ms El Mahroug has said that when she first started attending Mr Berlusconi's private parties in February last year she falsely told him she was 24, before admitting a few months later that she was only 17.
Ms Minetti is alleged to have acted as a madam for the "stable" of women that Mr Berlusconi maintained in apartments in Milan.
She under investigation for allegedly procuring prostitutes.
The second conversation, from September 26 last year, is between Mr Berlusconi and Raissa Skorkina, a Russian starlet who seemed to use a code when asking the prime minister for money.
She purportedly called him at his residence outside Milan, Villa San Martino, to tell him she was "running out of petrol".
Mr Berlusconi initially seemed not to understand her but then caught on, saying: "Ah, I understand. OK, I will tell Spinelli" -- a reference to his accountant, Giuseppe Spinelli, who prosecutors believe funnelled hundreds of thousands of euro to women in the prime minister's inner circle.
The third conversation, recorded on October 4, is allegedly between Mr Berlusconi and Marysthelle Polanco, a Dominican showgirl. She asks him for help in finding a job in television, to which he agrees.
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