Berlusconi gave Ruby €45,000 gift 'for salon'
ITALIAN Premier Silvio Berlusconi admitted for the first time yesterday that he gave £40,000 (€45,000) to the teenage erotic dancer at the heart of a sex scandal so that she could buy hair-removing laser equipment for a beauty centre she planned to open.
The prime minister said he wanted to help set up Karima El Mahroug in business because he feared that poverty and a lack of opportunities would force her into prostitution.
He also repeated that he believed at the time that she was the granddaughter of Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt.
But his political opponents accused him of lying, questioning how he could have believed that a relative of one of the Middle East's wealthiest rulers was at risk of having to sell her body for money. "He's trying to reconcile the irreconcilable," said Anna Finocchiaro, an MP from the opposition Democratic Party. Mr Berlusconi (74) spoke to journalists as he swept into a court in Milan for the latest hearing in one of three corruption trials that he faces while simultaneously battling the prostitution case.
In the sex trial, he faces allegations that he paid for sex with the Moroccan-born starlet on 13 occasions at his mansion outside Milan and then tried to cover up the relationship through an abuse of office.
At the time of the alleged encounters, between February and May last year, she was 17 -- a year below the legal age of prostitution in Italy, an offence for which he could be sent to jail for three years.
But as he entered court, he again denied ever having sex with Ms El Mahroug -- better known by her stage name Ruby the Heart Stealer -- and said he took pity on her because she had run away from home.
He admitted giving her tens of thousands of euro but said it was "to meet her needs, to stop her from being forced into prostitution".
"The girl told me a very sorrowful story, which moved me. So I gave her a chance to open a beauty clinic with a friend of hers," he said.
He repeated his insistence that he told police to release the teenager on a theft charge in May because he believed she was Mr Mubarak's granddaughter and he feared there could be a diplomatic incident.
Cheered by supporters outside the court, he said the allegations of tax fraud and embezzlement against him and one of his companies, Mediaset, were "laughable and demented".
"I've spent a surreal morning, a paradoxical waste of time and a waste of resources," Mr Berlusconi told reporters. "There is no proof, no documents, no testimony, no money trail that supports the prosecutor's thesis."
Asked whether he thought he might be convicted in any of the four trials, he replied: "Not in your wildest dreams." (© Daily Telegraph, London)