ROME – “Ruby the Heart Stealer” finally had her day in court Friday, testifying in the case of three people on trial for allegedly providing prostitutes for Italy’s three-time prime minister media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.
Moroccan-born erotic dancer Karima el-Mahroug, who is best known by her “Ruby” stage name, gave some colorful insights into Berlusconi's unusual tastes while arguing neither she nor the former premier and his handlers did anything illegal.
El-Mahroug admitted to particpating in the “bunga bunga” soirees Berlusconi hosted, and she recalls as many as 20 women stripping for Berlusconi at the same time. But she also said she never saw any physical contact between Berlusconi and the strippers, and she reiterated previous claims that although she sometimes slept in Berlusconi’s villa, she never had sex with the 76-year-old billionaire.
She said she was paid €2,000-€3,000 ($2,560-$3,840) each time she visited Berlusconi.
The trial seeks to determine whether Emilio Fede, a one-time anchor on news programs for the Mediaset channels Berlusconi controls; former talent agent Lele Mora; and Nicole Minetti, a one-time pinup girl and a lawmaker for Berlusconi’s political party, are guilty of procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi. All three deny breaking the law.
El-Mahrough said she came to Berlusconi’s attention through Fede, who found her at a beauty contest in Sicily when she was 16, and said she sometimes worked for Mora during public events. She said Minetti was a regular at Berlusconi’s parties and that Minetti once stripped for Berlusconi while dressed as a nun. But el-Mahroug also stressed that she saw nothing that indicated any of the three paid prostitutes of Berlusconi's behalf.
El-Mahrough staged a public protest last month when she was not allowed to testify in Berlusconi’s trial in which prosecutors allege the tycoon paid el-Mahroug, then aged 17, for sex and then lied to law enforcement officials to try to get her off on minor theft charges. She said she wanted to clear her name.
Prosecutors have since asked for a six-year prison term and a lifetime ban from politics for Berlusconi. A verdict is expected next month.
Berlusconi is not a defendant in the trial of Fede, Mora, and Minetti, but he has had his share of legal woes in recent months. In addition to the allegations of paying a minor for sex and abuse of power, he was sentenced to four years behind bars last year in a tax fraud case connected to his media empire, and to a further year in jail in a wire tap case. Both verdicts are under appeal.
Berlusconi is Europe’s richest media mogul, controlling three national television networks in Italy and one in Spain, the Medusa cinema production and distribution company, and several print media. He is also one of the key backers in the newly-installed Italian government led by Enrico Letta, a former opposition lawmaker who is a nephew of top Berlusconi lieutenant Gianna Letta.
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