ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has denied ever paying a woman for sex, as he faces growing political pressure over lurid allegations that he slept with a female escort who was paid to attend his parties.
“I have never paid a woman,” Berlusconi said in an interview with the Chi weekly owned by his Mondadori publishing empire.
“I’ve never understood what satisfaction there is other than that of conquering (a woman),” he told the magazine, according to excerpts sent to Reuters ahead of publication on Wednesday.
The popular premier’s credibility has come under attack over a string of scandals related to his friendship with an 18-year-old girl and parties with young women, prompting him to angrily declare last week that he would not be forced out.
But the opposition and the influential Catholic Church have demanded Berlusconi clear up the facts after a corruption probe in southern Italy brought forward a female escort who said she spent the night with the premier and had recordings to prove it.
Berlusconi has accused the media of mounting a smear campaign before the G8 summit he will host next month.
His center-right coalition has an ample majority in both houses of parliament. But it turned in a poorer than expected performance in European and local elections this month amid a media frenzy over the scandals surrounding his private life.
Asked if it had not occurred to him that the woman in question, Patrizia D’Addario, was a high-class prostitute, Berlusconi replied: “If I suspect something of that sort of any person, then I would stay a thousand miles away.”
D’Addario last week told an Italian newspaper that a local businessman now being probed by magistrates paid her 1,000 euros ($1,386) to attend a dinner at Berlusconi’s Rome residence along with other young women — what she described as a “harem” — and she was back a few weeks later to spend the night with the premier.
Another woman who accompanied D’Addario to Berlusconi’s residence told newspapers that the female escort said she slept with the premier, but had not asked for money because she was more keen on favors to obtain building permits.
The second woman has also said Berlusconi presented her with rings and necklaces he designed himself, as well as cash.
All that comes after Berlusconi was forced to deny having sex with an 18-year-old aspiring model amid accusations from his divorce-seeking wife that he “frequents minors.” Berlusconi said he doubted a reconciliation with his wife was possible now.
“What is certain is that ours was a big love story. And true love stories are never erased,” Berlusconi told Chi, adding that he was “sad but serene” and thinks of his deceased mother daily.
In a sign of the normally supportive Italian Catholic establishment’s rising impatience with the conservative premier, the popular Famiglia Cristiana weekly attacked him for exceeding the “limits of decency.”
Additional reporting by Gavin Jones, editing by Mark Trevelyan