Saturday 16 December 2017

Berlusconi 'lavished millions on showgirls, actresses" as Italy fell into crisis

Nick Squires

ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi lavished millions of euros on a string of showgirls, actresses and female television presenters, bank records revealed on Thursday, as his country fell further into the economic mire and new austerity measures.

The Italian prime minister 74, gave nearly €3m in cash as gifts to his female admirers and spent an additional €337,000 on jewellery which he handed out as presents, the bank details showed.

The revelations emerged the day after he presented a hastily cobbled together reform package to European leaders in Brussels which will hit ordinary Italians hard, with plans to make it easier for employees to be sacked and for the retirement age to be raised from 65 to 67.

Details of the transactions emerged from a probe by magistrates in Florence into Denis Verdini, a national coordinator of Mr Berlusconi's ruling People of Freedom Party, who is being investigated for alleged corruption in the awarding of public works contracts.

The documents, obtained by La Repubblica newspaper, showed that between January 2007 and June 2008 the billionaire prime minister paid out €17m to his friends and associates, including political allies, personal staff and his brother Paolo, who edits the right-wing Il Giornale newspaper.

Payments to glamorous young women amounted to €2.7m of the total.

One of the largest, €150,000, went to Virginia Sanjust, a former television announcer and a relation of a Tuscan aristocrat whose hilltop estate was rented in the summer by David Cameron, the Prime Minister, for a family holiday.

Mr Berlusconi gave €135,000 to Raissa Skorkina, a Russian model who worked at Billionaire, a VIP nightclub on Sardinia's exclusive Costa Smeralda.

Miss Skorkina is one of around 30 women who have been cited in a trial in Milan in which Mr Berlusconi is accused of abuse of office and paying for sex with an under age prostitute.

The payments also included €220,000 to Rasa Kulyte, a former Miss Lithuania who became a game show hostess on Italian television, and €275,000 to Isabella Orsini, an actress who married a Belgian prince.

Sabina Began, a former men's magazine model who is known to the Italian press as the 'queen bee' of Mr Berlusconi's inner circle, received €50,000 while Barbara Matera, a former beauty queen who under the prime minister's patronage became an MEP in Brussels, was given €95,000, according to the leaked bank records.

Italy is under enormous pressure from the EU to slash its public debt and stimulate growth, but the gravity of the situation did not stop Mr Berlusconi from casting admiring glances at one of his fellow leaders at the summit in Brussels on Wednesday.

A series of photographs captured him smiling broadly at Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark, and casting a lingering glance at her behind as she walked away from him. One Italian newspaper, La Stampa, called him "incorrigible".

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