ROME - A businessman who recruited young women to attend parties at Premier Silvio Berlusconi's homes has apologized to the premier for having contributed to a new scandal.

Giampaolo Tarantini said in a statement late Saturday to the Italian news agency ANSA that he reimbursed the women only for their travel and expenses, rebutting suggestions that he paid the women, reportedly including an expensive prostitute, to attend.

He said that Berlusconi did not know the expenses were paid and that he was sorry that something that was meant well had turned into a mess for the premier.

The scandal began weeks ago when the premier's wife, Veronica Lario, cited Berlusconi's selection of young starlets and showgirls for European Parliament elections in announcing she was divorcing him.

Since then, Berlusconi has fended off allegations that he had an improper relationship with an 18-year-old model and had hosted showgirls and escorts at his parties who were paid to attend. Berlusconi has called the allegations "garbage."

Three women have told Italian newspapers that at Tarantini's invitation they attended parties at the premier's residence last fall and in January.

The first, Patrizia D'Addario, described by her friends as a high-end prostitute from Bari, told Corriere della Sera last week she was paid 1,000 euros ($1,400) to attend a party in October 2008 at Berlusconi's Rome residence, and then returned Nov. 4 and stayed the night.

She told the newspaper she wore a recording device during her time with Berlusconi and the recording has been turned over to Bari prosecutors.

D'Addario's friend, Barbara Montereale, told the left-leaning La Repubblica that she, too, attended the Nov. 4 party, and then another at Berlusconi's Sardinian villa in mid-January.

For that party - to which she was flown on a private jet - Montereale said she received 1,000 euros from Tarantini and another envelope with cash from Berlusconi himself after she said she was having problems raising an infant alone.

She said she was not a prostitute and did not have sex with Berlusconi.

Montereale told Il Giornale, the Berlusconi family newspaper, that D'Addario went public with her story to get back at the premier because he reneged on a promise to help her with a real estate problem.