Italy was engaged in a guessing game yesterday as to the identity of a mystery woman who Silvio Berlusconi claims has been his steady girlfriend for nearly two years.
Mr Berlusconi's claims came as prosecutors sought permission to search the office of the prime minister's accountant, in the hope that they will find proof that he kept a number of prostitutes in his various Milan residences.
Prosecutors said they had "ample evidence" that "a significant number of young women prostituted themselves with Mr Berlusconi at his residences in exchange for sums of money".
At the heart of the scandal is a teenage Moroccan nightclub dancer nicknamed 'Ruby the Heart Stealer' who Mr Berlusconi is alleged to have slept with at his mansion outside Milan in April last year when she was 17.
Karima El Mahroug, now 18, was one of a dozen young women who were at Mr Berlusconi's villa when he entertained Russian Prime Minister Vlad-imir Putin, prosecutors believe.
In a new twist to the saga, Mr Berlusconi (74) claimed in a televised address that he has been in a relationship with an unnamed woman ever since Veronica Lario, his wife of 20 years, announced in April 2009 that she wanted a divorce.
During the time that he claims to have been in a "stable" relationship with her, he has been accused of sleeping with at least two prostitutes.
In a video message to supporters, he dismissed months of press reports that he held such parties, insisting that his girlfriend would never have tolerated them.
"Since I separated -- though I'd never wanted to say it to avoid exposing her to the media -- I have had a stable relationship of affection with a person, who was obviously often with me at those evenings and would certainly never have allowed, at or after dinner, those absurd things some newspapers have conjured up." (© Daily Telegraph, London)