Woman Describes Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga Parties
MILAN - Silvio Berlusconi's private disco featured not only aspiring show girls performing striptease acts as sexy nuns and nurses, but also dressed as President Barack Obama and a prominent Milan prosecutor whom the billionaire media mogul has accused of persecuting him, according to the first public sworn testimony by the Moroccan woman at the center of the scandal.
Karima el-Mahroug's testimony Friday at the trial of three former Berlusconi aides accused with procuring her and other woman for prostitution confirms a sexually charged atmosphere at the parties of the then-sitting premier. They deny the charges. The trial is separate from the one in which Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with a minor - el-Mahroug when she was 17 - and trying to cover it up.
El-Mahroug, now 20, said she attended about a half a dozen parties, using her nickname Ruby, and that after each, he handed her an envelope with up to 3,000 euros ($3,900) in denominations of 500. She said she later received 30,000 euros cash from the former premier paid through an intermediary - money that she told Berlusconi she wanted to use to open a beautician salon despite having no formal training.
But she denied that Berlusconi had even given her 5 million euros ($6.43 million). She said she told acquaintances and even her father that she was going to receive such a large sum "as a boast," but that it was a lie to make her seem more important.
The three Berlusconi aides - Emilio Fede, an executive in Berlusconi's media empire; Nicole Minetti, a former dental hygienist, showgirl and local politician, and talent agent Dario "Lele" Mora - are accused of recruiting women for prostitution at the parties and abetting prostitution, including of a minor.
El-Mahroug, also known as Ruby, has made carefully orchestrated statements to the media since the scandal broke but has never publicly given sworn testimony. Both she and Berlusconi deny having had sex.
Dressed soberly with her hair pulled back, El-Mahroug said she first made contact with Berlusconi's inner circle when she participated in a beauty contest organized by Fede in Sicily when she was 16.
After that she made her way to Milan, hoping to find work. She said she tried to get work through another defendant's talent agency but didn't have proper identity documents, and wound up landing a job as a hostess in nightclubs, earning around 100 euros ($130) a night.
Eventually, she ran into Fede at a restaurant, where she reminded him of his promise in Sicily to help her. Shortly thereafter, she was invited to a dinner party, at Berlusconi's villa outside of Milan.
She testified that she met the premier that night - on Valentine's Day in 2010 - and that he gave her an envelope of 2,000 to 3,000 euros ($2,600 to $3,900), saying it was "a little help" and asking for her telephone number, which she gave him.
At that party, she said, she introduced herself as Ruby and told other guests a fake tale that she was Egyptian, that her mother was a famous Arab singer and that she was related to then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. She was 17 at the time but had passed herself off as being 23 or 24.
El-Mahroug confirmed Friday what other witnesses have testified previously: that at some of the soirees, young female party guests had dressed up like nuns and danced for Berlusconi and then stripped down to their underwear.
El-Mahroug said Minetti, one of the defendants, had dressed up like a nun at that Feb. 14 party and lifted her costume to show off her legs as she danced in Berlusconi's in-house disco, which was outfitted with a lap-dance pole. El-Mahroug demonstrated from her seat how Minetti had raised her hemline. She said Minetti eventually took off her costume and was in just her lingerie.
She said another girl dressed up alternatively as Obama or a Milan magistrate who is leading the prosecution against Berlusconi in the sex scandal, donning a red wig and the black robes worn by magistrates in Italy.
"The girls who were dressed in costumes approached him in a sensual way as they danced. They raised their skirts," El-Mahroug testified. She added: "I never saw contact."
El-Mahroug said she visited Berlusconi's mansion, Arcore, a half-dozen times, and that each time she was given an envelope with money, always in 500 euro bills ($645 each). The second evening she went she said she was given around 2,000 euros.
Prosecutors in Berlusconi's separate trial have said El-Mahroug's testimony is unreliable and are relying on her sworn statements. The defense had initially called her as a witness, but then changed its strategy and didn't call her. That trial is nearing a verdict and will reconvene May 24.