The nightclub dancer at the centre of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's sex trial has staged a protest outside the court, alleging that she had been unfairly pressured as part of a campaign against him.
Karima El-Mahroug, better known under her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", read out a tearful, six-page statement on Thursday denying that she was a prostitute, insisting that she had never had sex with Berlusconi and demanding that the court hear her side of the story.
"Today I realise that there is a war under way against [Berlusconi] that I do not feel a part of, but which has dragged me in and injures me."
- Karima El Mahroug
The 76-year-old Berlusconi is accused of having paid for sex with
El-Mahroug while she was a minor during his infamous `'bunga-bunga''
parties at his villa near Milan, and then trying to cover it up.
"I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide,'' El-Mahroug said.
The 21-year-old said she had been publicly humiliated by the implication that she was a prostitute and that investigators had exploited her vulnerability to attack Berlusconi, leader of Italy's main centre-right party.
She said she faced "real and genuine psychological torture" from magistrates once they realised that she would not provide evidence against Berlusconi.
"I felt used by sections of the press and judges which had a common objective, to hurt people who had helped me," she said.
"My suffering is also the fault of those judges ... who described me as a prostitute even though I always denied having sexual relations for money and above all having them with Silvio Berlusconi."
Carrying a large sign reading "The Ruby case: Are you not interested in the truth any more?", she said she had been used as part of a deliberate campaign against Berlusconi by magistrates and sections of the press.
"Today I realise that there is a war under way against him that I do not feel a part of, but which has dragged me in and injures me," she said. "I do not want to be a victim of this situation."
El-Mahroug demanded to be allowed to testify in open court but declined to explain to reporters why she had avoided summons to appear at previous hearings.
As recently as December, she failed to appear in court, later turning up in Mexico, where she said she was on holiday.
The trial has been suspended while judges consider Berlusconi's request to transfer it away from Milan, where he says magistrates are waging a vendetta against him. The next hearing is due on April 22.
Berlusconi is also appealing against a four-year sentence for tax fraud, and his legal problems further complicate the political standoff that arose when elections in February left no party able to form a government.
As well as the charge of paying for sex with El-Mahroug, Berlusconi is accused of abusing the powers of his office by getting her released from custody in 2010 when she was held on an unrelated theft charge.
Prosecutors say Berlusconi asked police to release her because she was a niece of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
However, El-Mahroug admitted to having made this up, saying she had created a "parallel life" as she tried to imaging a different life from the poverty-stricken world in which she grew up.
"I'm sorry to have told these lies to Silvio Berlusconi as well, who I am sure would be ready to help me even if I had told the truth," she said.