Out of office for roughly six months and on trial for having sex with a 17-year-old girl, Silvio Berlusconi, may now be looking for his next political act—as president of Italy. A three-time prime minister and notorious playboy, Berlusconi, 75, intends to introduce legislation that would change the role of the country’s president from that of an appointed ceremonial official to someone elected and endowed with greater power. If the legislation passes, the Italian television mogul says he would vie for the job, if only for the good of the country.
“There are responsibilities one cannot back away from,” he told reporters last week with his classic wink and sly smile.
If elected president, Berlusconi would live in the Quirnale Palace in central Rome, which could serve as a new venue for his infamous bunga bunga parties.
A change may be exactly what the veteran politico needs. Politics have taken a back seat in Berlusconi’s life since last November, when he was booted off the piazza amid an economic meltdown and a variety of sex scandals. Since then, the self-made former cruise-ship crooner has quietly supported the austerity measures of his successor, Mario Monti, while fighting a criminal trial for abuse of power and paying an underage woman for sex during one of the infamous sex parties held at one of his private villas.
The sex trial has taken a turn for the tawdry lately, as a string of party guests including models, strippers, and call girls have sashayed into the courtroom to take the stand. By questioning guests about what they saw or did at the prime minister’s villa, prosecutors are trying to paint a vivid picture of the parties as orgies where “sesso a pagamento” or sex for money was the common denominator. Establishing this will help prove that Berlusconi paid then-17-year-old Karima el-Mahroug, whose stage name is “Ruby the Heart Stealer,” for sex. Prostitution in Italy is not a crime unless it is with a minor.
Thus far, several witnesses have testified that women often pole-danced and stripped in front of the prime minister and his guests, while donning a variety of costumes: nuns’ habits, police uniforms, and professional soccer attire. Other witnesses told the court that the later the party went, the sexier the entertainment became. After the strip shows ended, some women then allegedly performed lesbian sex acts on stage. Some party guests testified that they also engaged in “mutual touching” with the prime minister and other men in attendance. One of the girls, a 28-year-old named Marysthell Polanco, told the court that she once dressed in a raunchy Barack Obama costume to dance for Berlusconi and his cronies. Polanco also testified that she wore a red judicial robe and red glasses to mimic those of Ilda Boccassini, one of the female prosecutors working the case against the former prime minister.
Berlusconi, who has attended the trial on only a few occasions, says the parties were just good fun. “Girls, women, are by nature exhibitionists,” he told reporters outside the courthouse in late April, trying to justify why women wanted to take their clothes off in front of him. Through a taped conversation between Palanco and Diana Gonzales, another woman who attended the bunga bunga parties, the court learned that the fun didn’t stop on stage.
“There weren’t enough bedrooms for sex because “there were just too many women,” Gonzales said.
The court has also heard testimony from a handful of men who attended the parties, including Berlusconi’s accountant, Giuseppe Spinelli, who testified that he paid Ruby roughly €8,900. Berlusconi has admitted paying her as much as €60,000, but he maintains it was for hair-removal equipment for a beauty salon she intended to open, not for sexual favors. Spinelli told the court that he had been instructed to bring over €20 million in cash to Berlusconi’s private house over the course of 2009 and 2010. He told the court that he usually brought several thousand euro to Milan on Mondays and one of Berlusconi’s aids would put various sums of money in unmarked envelopes to give the women after the parties, depending on what they did.
One young woman, Natasha Teatino, testified that she attended the parties but kept her clothes on, so she “didn’t get an envelope.” She also told the court that Aris Espinoza, another attendee, “exchanged sex for money with Berlusconi on several occasions, so her envelopes had a lot of money in them.”
When Espinoza took the stand, she confirmed Teatino’s testimony and said Berlusconi paid her rent in exchange for her working the parties. “My rent was paid not with my money but with Berlusconi’s,” she said.
Berlusconi’s trial resumes on June 8 in Milan with another bevy of beautiful women taking the stand. Prosecutors will also introduce recorded conversations between Berlusconi and 30 different women who were caught asking the former prime minister for apartments and cash and for jobs on his television programs. Berlusconi maintains that he did nothing wrong, saying that his parties were just following in the tradition of “burlesque shows.”
“I watch the girls with great interest because I am enjoying myself greatly,” he said outside court last month.
And he will continue to do so, he says, even if he gets elected president.