AT a certain point, a woman at one of Silvio Berlusconi's parties was heard saying, "a girl started flashing her bottom and the evening took off".
The Italian prime minister said he has nothing to be ashamed of and that he has just been having fun. But the mass of sordid details of his "bunga bunga" parties has now been disclosed for the first time.
The descriptions provided by prosecutors, investigating allegations of wrongdoing, prostitution and sexual adventures with an under-age dancer, read like a bacchanalia.
One opposition politician said: "Compared with Berlusconi, Caligula was a prude."
And so it might seem from the 389 pages of investigation and full gallery of skimpily dressed showgirls named in prosecutors' papers, which were released last night.
"After the meal," a woman on one of hundreds of surveillance tapes was heard saying, "I heard some girls saying: 'Let's go down to the bunga bunga (room)', a sort of disco with sofas, a dance pole, a kind of bar and bathrooms where the girls changed into revealing outfits."
Half-naked starlets were then said to have performed pole dances and "wriggled up to the prime minister provocatively on the sofa, rubbing him up and letting him have a feel".
One showgirl was ordered to dress up as a nurse. "You'll have to get a white coat, with nothing on underneath," she was told.
The frenzied organising of his courtiers is disclosed too, putting together gatherings in Milan, Rome, and on Lake Maggiore. A lieutenant was taped saying: "He's on form and raring to go. This is the right evening but who can I find?"
A scramble then ensued, with women competing to be at the parties because Mr Berlusconi was viewed, according to one newspaper, as a "cash machine for which you need no PIN".
The prime minister, for years viewed by his supporters as a lovable rogue doing only what they would do given the chance, has started to appear as a man treated with contempt by a rapacious circle of showgirls competing to squeeze cash from his deep pockets.
Karima El Mahroug, the girl at the centre of the under-age sex allegations, all denied, was purported to have said that she didn't care who Mr Berlusconi was, as long as "he's showering me with money".
"Berlusconi has become a figure of fun," said Klaus Davi, a media expert. "He comes across as an old fool at the mercy of these girls."
The wire taps paint an unedifying picture of parents encouraging their daughters to seduce Berlusconi. The father of one woman was taped saying: "You've had one girl then another get ahead of you. . . wake up!" The brother of another told her that Mr Berlusconi "could solve a lot of our problems".
Mr Berlusconi's counter-attack has ranged across his media empire, with the deployment of ministers, lawyers and other loyalists.
"There's been no graft, no incitement to prostitution, not even of a minor," he said in a second televised address in three days, and then threatened prosecutors with "punishment", accusing them of using wire taps against him and his guests as if they were gangsters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)