September 18, 2009 / 4:49 PM / 10 years ago

Police detain man at centre of Berlusconi scandal

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi talks to reporters at the end of an informal summit of European Union heads of state and government in Brussels September 17, 2009. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BARI, Italy (Reuters) - Italian police detained the businessman at the center of a prostitution scandal surrounding Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Friday, on charges related to drug dealing, judicial sources said.

Gianpaolo Tarantini, an entrepreneur who reportedly told prosecutors in the southern city of Bari he supplied 30 escorts for parties hosted by Berlusconi, was detained in Bari airport as he was about to take a flight to Rome.

Tarantini was being held in the local barracks of Italy’s financial police while a judge decides whether to uphold the prosecutor’s arrest warrant, sources said.

He was detained on charges related to cocaine dealing, sources said, after the prosecutor cited risks that he might tamper with evidence or attempt to flee the country.

His lawyer, Nicola Quaranta, declined to comment.

Tarantini was thrust into the spotlight after call-girl Patrizia D’Addario testified he had paid her to spend the night with Berlusconi following a party at the conservative prime minister’s Rome residence in November.

D’Addario has said she made recordings of the visit and Italian papers have posted audio and transcripts of alleged conversations between her and the prime minister.

Berlusconi has not denied sleeping with her but insists he has never paid for sex and prosecutors have said has committed no crime in the case. Tarantini is also accused of supplying escorts to local left-wing politicians.

That scandal capped a difficult summer for Berlusconi, after his second wife announced she wanted a divorce in May and accused him of consorting with minors after he was filmed attending the 18th birthday party of model Noemi Letizia.

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