Woman describes Berlusconi's 'bunga bunga' parties

Testimony confirms randy bashes by Italy's then-premier

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MILAN -- Silvio Berlusconi's private disco featured not only aspiring showgirls performing striptease acts as sexy nuns and nurses, but one woman dressed up 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 scandal's center.

Karima el-Mahroug's testimony Friday at the trial of three former Berlusconi aides accused of procuring her and other women for prostitution confirms a sexually charged atmosphere at the "bunga bunga" parties of the then-sitting premier. The trial is separate from one in which Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with a minor -- Ms. Mahroug when she was 17 -- and trying to cover it up.

Ms. Mahroug, now 20, said she attended about a half-dozen parties, using her nickname Ruby, and that after each, Mr. Berlusconi handed her an envelope with as much as 3,000 euros ($3,900) in denominations of 500 ($650). She said she later received 30,000 euros ($39,000) cash from the then-premier, paid through an intermediary -- money that she told Mr. Berlusconi she wanted to use to open a beautician salon.

But she denied that Mr. Berlusconi had ever 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 Mr. 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. They deny the charges.

Ms. Mahroug has made carefully orchestrated statements to the media since the scandal broke, but has never publicly given sworn testimony. Both she and Mr. Berlusconi deny having had sex.

The parties occurred in Mr. Berlusconi's villa. Ms. Mahroug told the court that sometimes at parties there was a singer who is close to Mr. Berlusconi, but most guests were young women. While she went home by taxi alone the first night, other times, she testified, she slept alone in a guest room. Since she had only the dress she was wearing, in the morning she was given a track suit for breakfast, and sometimes stayed for lunch.

On the stand, Ms. Mahroug denied ever having acted as a prostitute, and repeated her denials that she ever had sex with Mr. Berlusconi.

But when the presiding judge pressed her on wiretaps in which she appears to be referring to acts of prostitution, she said her statements then were just "stupid things" -- the same phrase she used to explain her statements about receiving 5 million euros from the then-premier.

Prosecutors in Mr. Berlusconi's separate trial have said Ms. Mahroug's testimony is unreliable and are relying on her sworn statements. The defense had initially summoned her as a witness, then changed its strategy and didn't call her. That trial is nearing a verdict and will reconvene Friday.

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