Silvio Berlusconi has been up in court before, on charges related to his business activities and alleged links with the Mafia – but this is the first time his own personal conduct has come under the spotlight.
Prosecutors have accused him of buying sex with a “significant number” of underage women, including a Moroccan nightclub dancer Kariam El Mahroug, known as ‘Ruby’, who was 17 at the time. He’s also accused of using his influence to get her released from police custody when she was detained for an unrelated suspected theft.
Both the Prime Minister and Ruby have denied that any sexual relations took place – although she’s claimed that he gave her seven thousand euros when they first met.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters – mostly women – took part in demonstrations across Italy over the weekend, calling on the Prime Minister to resign – declaring that the series of sex scandals which surround him are degrading to women.
Silvio Berlusconi has dismissed the entire investigation as “disgusting and disgraceful”, accusing left wing opponents of deiberately trying to bring him down. Yesterday he insisted his motives were pure: “Every woman that has had the opportunity to know me knows my regard for them…I have always made it so that every woman feels, how should I say, special.”
The billionaire tycoon may have survived a recent confidence vote – but he’s struggling to recover from a split within his party ranks – and his position is becoming ever more precarious. His former ally Gianfranco Fini launched a scathing attack at the founding conference of his new political party – saying Italy had become “the laughing stock of the Western world.”
Latest opinion polls show Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party has slumped to just over 27 per cent support. And there’s more potential trouble to come – he’s due to face trial in three separate embezzlement and fraud cases in the next few weeks.