Berlusconi sex allegations widen

Prosecutors allege a second underage girl took part in parties held at Italian prime minister's villas.

    Berlusconi has said that the investigation by the Milan magistrates is 'scandalous' [Reuters]

    Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, is facing more pressure to resign after magistrates issued new documents with fresh details of erotic parties, some with underage girls, and of his alleged gifts to participants.

    The documents say a second woman who attended the parties was underage at the time, in addition to a Moroccan dancer at the centre of the inquiry, who was 17 when some of the parties were held.

    The centre-left opposition said the new papers made Berlusconi's position "untenable" and said he should resign willingly or that his conservative allies should put pressure on him to step aside for the good of the country.

    The 227 pages of new documents were sent by Milan magistrates to parliament on Wednesday night.

    Chunks of the papers were leaked to Italian media, which excerpts published on Thursday.

    They also show that a key Berlusconi associate who is being investigated on suspicion of procuring prostitutes is privately turning against him and made disparaging remarks about his physique and agein phone conversations taped by police.

    The magistrates have so far sent more than 600 pages of documents to parliament to support their request to search the office of Berlusconi's accountant, who is suspected of dispensing money and gifts to the women.

    Parliamentary vote

    A parliamentary panel on Thursday recommended that the search request be rejected, however, saying the whole investigation should be handled by a different court which is responsible for judging the conduct of ministers.

    The panel, made up largely of centre-right politicians, rejected the request by 11 votes to eight.

    The final decision on the search will be made by a vote of all deputies in the lower house, where Berlusconi has a slim majority.

    Asked about the new leaks, Berlusconi responded late on Wednesday that the investigation was itself "scandalous".

    Franco Frattini, the foreign minister and one of Berlusconi's most loyal allies, rejected suggestions that the centre-right government should dump Berlusconi because of the scandal.

    He said Berlusconi's PDL party "does not have its hands free to change its leader without [general] elections".

    "It would be absolutely mistaken to think of a change of leadership," Frattini told a lunch of foreign correspondents, saying Berlusconi had been chosen directly by voters at the last election in 2008.

    'Heart stealer' 

    Frattini conceded that the scandal had damaged Italy's image abroad but said this was the fault of politicised, biased magistrates and not Berlusconi, saying the evidence of many people showed the allegations were false.

    Excerpts in Italian media of transcripts of police interrogations of the women and phone wiretaps describing wild parties emerged just two days after Berlusconi's lawyers filed documents saying the encounters were friendly dinners.

    Frattini said Italy's stability required that it continued  with Berlusconi as leader and in any case no opposition figure could beat him in elections.

    The Milan prosecutors say Berlusconi paid for sex with prostitutes at the parties, including a teenage nightclub dancer whose stage name is "Ruby the Heart Stealer".

    Berlusconi denies wrongdoing and says he never paid for sex.

    When police searched the apartment of one of the women they investigated, they found money and jewellery, which she told the magistrates were gifts from Berlusconi, according to the leaks.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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