Strip shows were burlesque contests: Berlusconi
Milan - Silvio Berlusconi on Friday said his wild parties were "burlesque contests", as the former Italian prime minister made a first appearance at his trial for having sex with an underage prostitute.
The parties, one of which included strippers dressed up as nuns, were described by Berlusconi as "elegant dinners" characterised by an atmosphere of "joy, serenity and conviviality".
He said that after dinner his female guests would then hold "burlesque contests and practised" with him in a discotheque in the villa.
The scandal-tainted billionaire, who stepped down in November, also defended himself against accusations from prosecutors that payments he made to three women due to testify at the trial could be a way to influence their testimony.
"I pay for these girls' upkeep because their lives have been ruined by this trial," the 75-year-old told reporters during a break in the hearing.
He said about 30 women had been reduced to penury by the trial, adding that some of them have lost jobs and boyfriends due to media pressure.
"Their only fault was accepting a dinner invitation from me," he said.
"I've come here to see this show, a vast media slander operation," he said, adding that the use of state funds for a "useless" trial was scandalous.
At the last hearing on Monday one witness recounted coming to a party at Berlusconi's villa near Milan for the first time and seeing strippers dressed in nun costumes and football jerseys perform for the prime minister.
Imane Fadil said she was paid €2 000 by Berlusconi that night.
She also alleged that one of the stripper nuns was Nicole Minetti, a former starlet who is now a regional councillor for Berlusconi's People of Freedom party in Milan and who is on trial for procuring prostitutes for him.
Berlusconi is charged with having sex with Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El-Mahroug when she was just 17-years-old, and then allegedly abusing his powers by getting police to release her when she was arrested in a separate incident.
Abuse of power
El-Mahroug, better known by her stage name of "Ruby the Heart Stealer", denies having sex with Berlusconi and he rejects all charges.
At Friday's hearing witnesses spoke about the night in which Berlusconi called a police station in Milan after El-Mahroug was arrested for theft and pressured them to release her into the care of his trusted aide, Minetti.
Prosecutors claim he did this in order to avoid El-Mahroug possibly speaking to police about having had sex with the prime minister.