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Premier Silvio Berlusconi has dismissed an investigation into allegations he paid for sex with a teenage girl by saying prosecutors are just jealous they weren’t invited to his home for dinner.
In a statement Friday, Berlusconi called the investigations “absurd” and noted he has been investigated over 100 times, yet never convicted.
The latest probe by Milan prosecutors is looking into whether the 74-year-old premier had sex with a 17-year-old nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby, and then used the powers of office inappropriately to try to hide the encounter.
Berlusconi’s lawyers have called the probe groundless.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
ROME (AP) — Prosecutors are investigating whether Premier Silvio Berlusconi paid for sex with a teenage girl from Morocco and then abused his power in trying to cover up the encounters, officials said Friday.
The investigation, which Berlusconi’s lawyer called “absurd and groundless,” escalated a long history of accusations of sexual and financial impropriety aimed at the billionaire businessman, who has become Italy’s longest-serving postwar leader despite corruption trials, international gaffes and political infighting.
The latest allegations come at a moment of particular vulnerability for the blunt-speaking, high-living prime minister. Berlusconi has been politically weakened in recent months by a challenge from an-ex ally, while a law shielding him from two unrelated trials in Milan was significantly watered down Thursday by a ruling of Italy’s Constitutional Court.
Still, Italians have proven hard to shock, and Berlusconi inspires both loyalty and fierce opposition. A citizen group called Friday for his resignation but his supporters immediately dismissed the allegations as a baseless, politically-driven attack.
According to a statement by Milan prosecutors, the probe is looking into whether the 74-year-old premier had sex with a 17-year-old nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby by the press, and then used the powers of his office inappropriately in trying to hide the encounter.
The prosecutors issued a summons Friday for Berlusconi and his lawyers to appear for questioning, the statement said. They also ordered Milan police to search the offices of various people implicated in the case, including a showgirl-turned-politician who is close to the premier.
No date was given, but the ANSA news agency said the questioning might take place next week, and that prosecutors might seek a fast-track trial.
Berlusconi’s attorneys, Nicolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, said probe represented a “very serious interference in the prime minister’s private life that has no precedent in the country’s judicial history.”
They called the case media-driven, and said the allegations “have already been refuted by all witnesses and people directly involved.”
In recent years, Berlusconi has been engulfed in a series of scandals relating to his private life, including reports of wild parties at his mansions and alleged encounters with two other prostitutes. In one case, Patrizia D’Addario, a self-described call girl, said she spent the night with Berlusconi on the night Barack Obama was elected U.S president. She later gave purported tapes of her encounter with Berlusconi to an Italian magazine.
In 2009 his second wife, Veronica Lario, announced she was divorcing him, citing Berlusconi’s purported fondness for younger women, and his presence at the birthday party of an 18-year-old model, who famously called him “Papi” (“Daddy”).
Berlusconi has made no apologies for his lifestyle, saying recently, “I love life, I love women!” In the past he denied having paid to have sex, though he also said, “I’m no saint.”
The Ruby case became public months ago when it emerged that Berlusconi had intervened to secure the release from police custody of the girl, who had been held for theft. According to unsourced press reports at the time, Berlusconi had told the police she was a relative of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
When the scandal broke, Berlusconi denied any improper behavior, saying he had only intervened to help someone in need out of the goodness of his heart. He insisted he called Milan police solely to inform them that somebody available to act as the girl’s guardian was going to the police station where Ruby was being held.
The person who went to the police on Berlusconi’s behalf is Nicole Minetti, the former showgirl whose offices were searched by police. Minetti, who is also Berlusconi’s dental hygienist and an elected member of a regional assembly in Milan for the premier’s party, is also under investigation, the prosecutors said.
Ruby said in newspaper interviews months ago that she had been at the premier’s villa and that she lied about being over 18. She denied having sex with the premier.
The age of consent for sex in Italy is 14, but exploiting or aiding prostitution of minors under 18 is a crime. The girl has in the meantime turned 18.
The prosecutors are investigating whether Berlusconi called Milan police on the night of May 27-28 to secure the release of the girl because he wanted to hide the fact that he had been the girl’s client during encounters at his villa at Arcore, near Milan, between February and May, according to the statement.
Berlusconi was placed under investigation Dec. 21, the prosecutors said. They confirmed the probe Friday after Italy’s leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, reported on it.
Many of the premier’s political allies said the latest probe was yet another attempt to hurt the premier by what they say are left-leaning magistrates.
“It’s an old script,” said Daniele Capezzone, a spokesman for Berlusconi’s party. “If someone … still believes that Silvio Berlusconi can be defeated through judicial means, once again they will be sorely disappointed.”
Associated Press Writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.
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