MILAN, Italy -- Silvio Berlusconi's private disco featured not only aspiring showgirls performing striptease acts as sexy nuns and nurses, but one woman dressed up as U.S. President Barack Obama and a prominent Milan prosecutor whom the billionaire media mogul has accused of persecuting him, according to the first public sworn testimony by the Moroccan woman at the centre of the scandal.
Karima el-Mahroug's testimony Friday at the trial of three former Berlusconi aides accused with procuring her and other women for prostitution confirms a sexually charged atmosphere at the "bunga bunga" parties of the then-sitting premier. The trial is separate from the one in which Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with a minor -- el-Mahroug when she was 17 -- and trying to cover it up.
El-Mahroug, now 20, said she attended about a half-dozen parties, using her nickname Ruby, and that after each, Berlusconi handed her an envelope with up to 3,000 euros ($3,900) in denominations of 500. She said she later received 30,000 euros cash from the then-premier paid through an intermediary -- money she told Berlusconi she wanted to use to open a salon despite having no formal training.
But she denied Berlusconi had ever given her five million euros ($6.43 million). She said she told acquaintances and even her father she was going to receive such a large sum "as a boast," but it was a lie to make her seem more important.
The three Berlusconi aides -- Emilio Fede, an executive in Berlusconi's media empire; Nicole Minetti, a former dental hygienist, showgirl and local politician and talent agent Dario "Lele" Mora -- are accused of recruiting women for prostitution at the parties and abetting prostitution, including of a minor. They deny the charges.
El-Mahroug has made carefully orchestrated statements to the media since the scandal broke, but has never publicly given sworn testimony. Both she and Berlusconi deny having had sex.
Dressed soberly with her hair pulled back, el-Mahroug said she first made contact with Berlusconi's inner circle when she participated in a beauty contest organized by Fede in Sicily when she was 16. After that, she made her way to Milan, hoping to find work. She said she tried to get work through another defendant's talent agency but didn't have proper identity documents and wound up landing a job as a hostess in nightclubs, earning around 100 euros ($130) a night.
She frequently changed accommodation during that time, staying for periods of days with people whose names she no longer recalls.
Eventually, she ran into Fede at a restaurant, where she reminded him of his promise in Sicily to help her. Shortly thereafter, she was invited to a dinner party at Berlusconi's villa near Milan.
She testified she met the premier that night -- on Valentine's Day in 2010 -- and he gave her an envelope of 2,000 to 3,000 euros ($2,600 to $3,900), saying it was "a little help" and asking for her phone number, which she gave him.
At that party, she said, she introduced herself as Ruby and told other guests a fake tale that she was Egyptian, that her mother was a famous Arab singer and that she was related to then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. She was 17 but had passed herself off as being 23 or 24.
El-Mahroug confirmed Friday what other witnesses have testified: At some of the soirees, young female guests had dressed up like nuns and danced for Berlusconi and then stripped down to their underwear. The parties took place in a disco that had a lap-dance pole in Berlusconi's villa.
On the stand, el-Mahroug denied ever having acted as a prostitute.
-- The Associated Press