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Berlusconi’s war with judiciary widens over sex allegations

January 16, 2011

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, Published: January 16 2011

Silvio Berlusconi’s long-running battles with the judiciary – mostly focused on his business empire – threaten to enter uncharted and politically more dangerous territory with an investigation into his alleged relationship with a suspected underage prostitute.

Italy’s 74-year-old prime minister issued a scathing attack on Milan’s investigating magistrates at the weekend, calling the investigation the “most grotesque effort” in 17 years to “smear me personally and my institutional role with mud and to eliminate me from the political scene”.

“The mud will fall back on those who attempt to use the law as a political weapon,” he said, denouncing investigators for tapping the telephones of his private guests visiting his villa near Milan.

Italian media reported on Sunday that Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers would advise him not to answer a summons by Milan magistrates to appear for questioning later this week. The lawyers responded by saying no decision had been made.

After news of the teenage prostitution investigation broke on Friday, Italian media followed up with leaks of police taps. Telephone calls were reported to include one between Mr Berlusconi and Nicole Minetti, his dental hygienist, who is suspected of procuring 17-year-old Karima el Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer, for sex at his villas last year. Ms Minetti, a former showgirl, denies the allegations.

Ms Mahroug, now 18, denied in a weekend interview with Sky Italia television that she had sex with the prime minister, in spite of reports to the contrary citing the alleged intercepts.

The dinners she attended were “normal” and she was given €7,000 on one occasion, she said, adding that she had told people she was 24 years old.

Mr Berlusconi’s media empire is portraying the inquiry as part of a long-running campaign of politically motivated persecution by leftwing magistrates, led by Ilda Boccassini, described by daily Il Giornale as “out of control”.

“We have come to the final showdown,” Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying.

With Mr Berlusconi facing the possible resumption of two trials on charges of corruption and tax fraud following a ruling last week by the Constitutional Court, the prime minister’s legal battles risk damaging his efforts to broaden his slim majority in parliament.

But the sordid nature of the allegations and leaks to the press add a new dimension to this latest alleged scandal.

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