Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi denied at his trial on Friday that he hosted raunchy parties, had sex with a 17-year-old prostitute or abused his powers by pressuring police officers.
Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with Moroccan exotic dancer Karima al-Mahroug, better known by her stage name as “Ruby the Heart Stealer.”
He is also charged with abusing his position as prime minister by telling police to release her when she was arrested for petty theft in May 2010.
“I never had an intimate relationship of any kind with her,” the 76-year-old told the court in only his second appearance at the trial in Milan which began last year and has heard from witnesses describing strip-shows at his home.
“I was sure she was 24, as she herself said,” said Berlusconi, who has kept a relatively low public profile since stepping down in November 2011 after dominating Italy’s political scene for much of the past two decades.
“I can exclude with absolute certainty that there were ever scenes of a sexual nature,” he said, referring to parties held at his villa near Milan.
“Everything happened in front of the staff and at times my children too came in to say hello,” said the billionaire, who has five children from two marriages which ended in divorce and often boasts of his playboy qualities.
A report in the Corriere della Sera daily said that the trial was “making him anxious, losing him sleep and spoiling his days.”
“He considers this a real persecution against him... and knows that it could really damage forever his image as a statesman,” the report said.
Berlusconi’s future is still a matter of heated political debate in Italy, with many supporters in the People of Freedom party that he founded calling for him to return to lead the party in a general election next year.
The “Bunga Bunga” -- described by many of his female guests as a type of lap dance that Berlusconi enjoyed -- was “only a joke I used to tell which then got picked up by the press,” he told the court’s three female judges.
One witness earlier in the trial said she saw girls in nun costumes stripping for Berlusconi, another testified that she dressed up as late U.S. soul singer Whitney Houston and U.S. President Barack Obama before stripping off.
Several witnesses called by the prosecution said women were paid to attend the parties and given a bonus for having sex with Berlusconi.
But the former premier said these descriptions constituted “a monstrous operation of defamation” and an intrusion into his private life.
“They were just dinners in which I monopolized the attention, singing, talking about sport and politics and gossiping,” he said.
“I never paid money to have intimate relationships with my female guests and my female guests could not be considered escorts,” he said.
He did however add that his accountant had given Mahroug “several thousand euros after Ruby’s constant requests.”
The court on Friday also heard from two musicians who attended the parties, often playing along to Berlsuconi’s songs.
“He never laid a hand on them,” said Mariano Apicella, a guitarist and singer who has put out albums of love songs written by Berlusconi.
Pianist Danilo Mariani said that the young women “danced in a sexy, provocative way” but Berlusconi “limited himself to shaking their hands.”
Referring to his phone call to a Milan police station when al-Mahroug was arrested, Berlusconi said he “never put pressure on Milan police.”
He said he had wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident because he thought she was the niece of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
“I was sure that Ruby had a family link with Mubarak,” he said.
The charge of exploiting an underage prostitute in Italy carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and abuse of power up to 12 years.
The trial was one of the last in a series of scandals that helped precipitate Berlusconi’s downfall in November 2011, which was finally triggered by a parliamentary revolt against him and a wave of panic on financial markets.
Berlusconi has frequently accused prosecutors of plotting against him.
On Friday, he said newspaper reports said the judges in the trial -- dubbed “Rubygate” in the Italian press -- had already decided to convict him.
“I hope not, otherwise this would be an uncivilized and barbaric country.”