Prosecutors in Italy are investigating whether prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had sex with an under-age prostitute and then abused his power by trying to cover up the affair.
His lawyer called the investigation “absurd” and it is the latest in a long history of accusations of sexual and financial impropriety aimed at the billionaire businessman, who has shaken off the crises and maintained his grip on power.
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, then inappropriately used the powers of his office in a bid to hide the crime.
The prosecutors issued a summons for Mr Berlusconi and his lawyers on Friday, 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.
Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers, Nicolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, said the 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”.
The Ruby case became public months ago when it emerged that Mr 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, Mr Berlusconi had told the police she was a relative of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The prosecutors are investigating whether Mr 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.
Mr Berlusconi was placed under investigation on December 21, the prosecutors said. They confirmed the probe after Italy’s leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, reported on it.
Ruby said in newspaper interviews months ago that she had been at the premier’s villa and that she lied about being over 18, the legal age of consent in Italy. She denied having sex with the premier. She has subsequently turned 18.