Berlusconi faces new problems

2009-06-18 18:12

Rome - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faced new trouble over his private life on Thursday after reports that he had entertained prostitutes at his homes.

But his lawyer hit back, saying that the billionaire could have as many women as he liked for nothing.

Several newspapers, among them La Stampa, said prosecutors in the southern city of Bari had evidence from four women hired by businessman Giampaolo Tarantini, an acquaintance of Berlusconi who is being investigated for corruption along with his brother.

Bugging of Tarantini's telephone revealed him offering money to escort girls to spend the night at Berlusconi's residences in Rome and Sardinia, laying him open to charges of incitement to prostitution.

One woman, Patrizia d'Addara, told the mass circulation Corriere della Sera that she had been paid €2 000 for each of two visits to Berlusconi's house in Rome.

She claimed to have recorded her conversations with Berlusconi and handed the tapes to magistrates investigating the Tarantinis.

Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini, quoted in Corriere, scoffed at the idea that he might have paid for sex, saying: "I think he could have many women for free."

The reports quoted aides to Berlusconi as saying the prime minister viewed the latest revelations as "rubbish", and part of a plot to oust him, about three weeks before he is to chair the Group of Eight industrialised powers summit.

The 72-year-old Italian leader is already engulfed in a scandal over his wife's decision to divorce him; his links to an aspiring teenage model and suggestive pictures taken at his Sardinia villa.

He is also under investigation for allegedly misusing his official plane to fly personal guests, including a flamenco dancer and a well-known singer, to his villa.