Berlusconi 'didn't know'

2009-06-22 08:50

Rome - A businessman who recruited young women to attend parties at Premier Silvio Berlusconi's homes has apologised to the premier for having contributed to a new scandal.

Giampaolo Tarantini also said in a statement late on Saturday to Italian new agency Ansa that he only reimbursed the women for their travel and expenses, refuting suggestions that he paid the women, reportedly including a high-end prostitute, to attend. He said Berlusconi didn't know the expenses were paid, and said he was sorry that something that was meant well had turned into a mess for the premier.

Tarantini has been at the centre of new allegations concerning Berlusconi's purported fondness for younger women. The scandal began weeks ago when the premier's wife, Veronica Lario, cited Berlusconi's selection of young starlets and showgirls for European Parliament elections in announcing she was divorcing him.

Since then, Berlusconi has fended off allegations he had an improper relationship with an 18-year-old model and had hosted showgirls and escorts at his parties who were paid to attend.

Berlusconi has called the allegations "garbage" and accused the media of a smear campaign.

Three women have told Italian newspapers that at Tarantini's invitation they attended parties at the premier's residence last fall and in January.

The first, Patrizia D'Addario, described by her friends as a high-end prostitute from Bari, told Corriere della Sera last week that she was paid €1 000 to attend a party in October 2008 at the premier's residence in Rome, and then returned on November 4 and stayed the night.

She told Corriere she wore a recording device during her time with Berlusconi - recordings that have been turned over to Bari prosecutors.

Designed to harm the premier

D'Addario's friend, Barbara Montereale, told the left-leaning La Repubblica on Saturday that she, too, attended the November 4 party, and then another at Berlusconi's Sardinian villa in mid-January.

For that party - to which she was flown on a private jet - Montereale said she received €1 000 from Tarantini and another envelope with cash from the premier himself after she confided she was having problems raising an infant alone. She stressed she wasn't a prostitute and didn't have sexual relations with the premier.

Both D'Addario and Montereale said they were offered candidacies in recent local elections in Bari with a party affiliated with Berlusconi's Freedom People's party, though neither won.

Montereale told Il Giornale, the Berlusconi family newspaper, that D'Addario went public with her story and turned the recordings over to prosecutors to get back at the premier because he reneged on a promise to help her with a real estate problem she was having.

A third woman, Lucia Rossini, told Repubblica on Sunday she also attended the November 4 party, though she wasn't paid or offered a candidacy. Both she and Montereale say the premier gave them jewellery, including jewelled butterflies and turtles, as party favours.

All three have been questioned by Bari police reportedly investigating Tarantini for alleged improprieties concerning contracts for his health care business and for allegedly inciting prostitution.

In the statement, Tarantini said the women's stories were false and were designed purely to harm the premier. He apologised to Berlusconi for having "unwillingly hurt him".

He said he invited the women to the parties because he wanted to present a "bella figura" - a good impression - to Berlusconi, whom he had only recently met.

"It's absolutely beyond discussion that Premier Berlusconi could have been aware of my reimbursements" to the women, he said.