Silvio Berlusconi Denies Having Sex With Underage Dancer

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ROME – Billionaire media mogul and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Friday denied having sex with an underage Moroccan erotic dancer, contradicting one of the most high visibility cases against him.

Berlusconi is on trial or under investigation for more serious charges, including tax evasion, corruption, and abuse of power -- often in connection to the Mediaset television and cinema giant he controls. But none of those cases has drawn as many headlines as the 2010 allegations that the 76-year-old Berlusconi paid the then-17-year-old Karima el-Mahroug-- she is best known by her stage name Ruby the Heart Stealer -- for sex. Prostitution is legal in Italy, but not if it involves a minor.

Berlusconi’s appearance in a Milan court is unusual, as his lawyers usually represent him in front of the judges. But on Friday, he appeared to contradict accusations that he paid el-Mahroug for sex, denying having had sexual contact with her at all: “We never had intimate relations of any kind,” Berlusconi said, adding that he believed el-Mahroug was 24, based on what she told him.

Berlusconi also denied that the famous “bunga-bunga” parties he hosted were orgies, as has been reported many times in the Italian and international press.

“The expression ‘bunga-bunga’ comes from a joke,” he said, saying they were more traditional events.

Berlusconi also denied the abuse of power charges, based on reports that he told police that el-Mahroug was a niece of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he tried to convince them to release her after she was arrested for shoplifting.

“I never put pressure on any official [to release her] when I spoke to them,” Berlusconi said. “I simply asked for information.”

Berlusconi’s remarks were “spontaneous,” a kind of statement defendants in Italian courts are allowed to make that does not subject them to cross questioning from prosecutors and which does not carry the weight of sworn testimony.

Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister nearly a year ago amid personal scandal and fears Italy was about to fall victim to the European debt crisis, is one of the richest people in Europe. His holdings include three television networks in Italy, one in Spain, and the Medusa film production and distribution house.

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