MILAN Young women dressing up as nuns at parties hosted by Silvio Berlusconi were just playing a "burlesque game", the former Italian premier said on Friday at his first appearance at a trial on charges he paid for sex with an underage prostitute.
"In my house there have only been elegant dinners, and after dinner sometimes we went down to the theatre, my children's former discotheque, where there was an atmosphere of good cheer and affection," the 75-year-old told reporters during a break in the hearing.
Earlier this week a Moroccan model, Imane Fadil, testified that one of the parties involved young women, sometimes in pairs, wearing nun's costumes and stripping off while performing raunchy pole dances.
"They started to dance like the nuns of the film 'Sister Act', and then they took off their clothes," she told the court. At another party, a woman in her underwear stripped for Berlusconi wearing a mask with the face of footballer Ronaldinho, she said.
Asked about the dressing-up, Berlusconi said: "We had burlesque games."
Berlusconi is charged with paying to have sex with Moroccan-born Karima El Mahroug in 2010, when she was 17, and then abusing the powers of his office by getting her freed from police custody after she had been arrested for theft.
The trial has led to headlines reminiscent of the "Bunga Bunga" scandal that helped precipitate Berlusconi's departure from office last year.
Prosecutors say that dozens of showgirls and aspiring starlets received cash and other gifts for taking part in sex games at his Milan residence.
GENEROSITY TO WOMEN
Berlusconi, who denies all charges, says he was only helping the young women out of generosity and accuses magistrates of mounting a politically biased campaign against him.
On Friday, he said he was still giving money to the small army of women involved in the case, some of whom have contradicted his line of defense at the trial.
"I am maintaining all the girls who have been ruined by the prosecutors, they have been forever dishonored. Some of them have lost their boyfriend, and maybe they'll never find another one again," he said.
Friday's hearing was devoted to police officers who were on duty on the night in May 2010 when El Mahroug, a nightclub dancer known by her stage name of Ruby the Heartstealer, was detained for stealing a 3,000 euro bracelet from a friend.
Berlusconi has acknowledged personally calling the police to have her released and describing her to officers as the niece of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
But testimony from Giorgia Iafrate, a police officer who was on duty that night, showed the police knew that was not the case. Iafrate said she had personally asked El Mahroug whether she was Mubarak's relative.
"She said 'no' and that sometimes she pretended to be Mubarak's niece," Iafrate told the court.
Both Berlusconi and El Mahroug deny they ever had sex.
"This trial is just a big media defamation operation against the prime minister," said Berlusconi who, though on trial, had until Friday refused to appear in court.
The billionaire media magnate was forced from power in November after his repeated failure to pass tough austerity measures led to a severe crisis on bond markets alarmed at the weakness of the government in the euro zone's third largest economy.
(Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Tim Pearce)