Bidding war for 'naked' pictures of Berlusconi
Photos 'taken by showgirls at party'
Lawyers for Silvio Berlusconi have filed legal objections over investigations that have allegedly found photographs of him naked in the company of young women.
The pictures are alleged to have been taken by one or more of the showgirls who attended the Italian prime minister's so-called "bunga bunga" parties at his mansion outside Milan.
An Italian newspaper reported that the existence of the images had prompted a bidding war between magazines and photo agencies, with a starting price of €1m.
The premier's legal team said that the pictures, if they even existed, "would be fakes, manipulated pictures, photo montages". They have nonetheless filed complaints with judicial authorities and Italy's privacy watchdog as a precaution against publication.
Investigators seized computers and mobile phones from young women whom Mr Berlusconi (74) allegedly installed as a "harem" in an upmarket apartment complex in Milan.
They are examining the devices to see whether they contain still or video images of the prime minister's home, Villa San Martino.
Prosecutors in Milan are expected to call today or tomorrow for Mr Berlusconi to be sent for trial on allegations of paying for sex with an underage prostitute known as Ruby the Heart Stealer and of abusing his office in trying to have her released from police custody on a theft charge.
The prime minister, whose centre-right party still has a higher approval rating than the opposition, has denied any wrongdoing.
In a typically spirited performance last night, the embattled Mr Berlusconi rebuffed calls by the opposition for his resignation.
He also insisted that early elections would harm the country and that he would continue to govern and not reshuffle his cabinet.
The ruling coalition "has a duty to continue to govern, here and now", he said. "I am convinced that there is no alternative to this government."
He denied unspecified newspaper reports of plans to replace some ministers.
However, the sex scandal is taking its toll nationally. Left-wing intellectuals addressed thousands of people at a rally in Milan to demand his immediate resignation.
"We are here to defend the honour of Italy, to remind the world that not all Italians are the same," Umberto Eco, the author of 'The Name of the Rose', told the crowd.
Mr Berlusconi's spokesman claimed the tycoon had been the victim of a biased Italian judiciary and "set-ups" in the press ever since he entered politics.
"People keep voting for us because they know that we have kept the country safe during the world's worst economic crisis since 1929," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)