MILAN - Silvio Berlusconi's private disco featured not only aspiring showgirls performing striptease acts as sexy nuns and nurses, but also one woman dressed up as President 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 center of the scandal.
Karima el-Mahroug's testimony Friday at the trial of three former Berlusconi aides accused of 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 that she attended about a half-dozen parties, using her nickname Ruby, and that after each, Berlusconi handed her an envelope with up to $3,900. She said she later received cash from the then-premier paid through an intermediary - money that she told Berlusconi she wanted to use to open a beautician salon despite having no formal training.
But she denied that Berlusconi had ever given her $6.43 million. She said that, "as a boast," she told acquaintances and even her father that she was going to receive such a large sum, but that 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 confirmed Friday what other witnesses have testified previously: that at some of the soirees, young female party guests had dressed up like nuns and danced for Berlusconi and then stripped down to their underwear.
She said another young woman dressed up alternately as Obama or a Milan magistrate who is leading the prosecution against Berlusconi in the sex scandal, donning a red wig and the black robes worn by magistrates in Italy.
On the stand, El-Mahroug denied ever having acted as a prostitute, and repeated her denials that she ever had sex with Berlusconi.
However, when the presiding judge pressed her on wiretaps in which she appears to be referring to acts of prostitution, she said that her statements then were just "stupid things." It was the same phrase she used to explain away her statements that she was about to receive 5 million euros from the then-premier.
Prosecutors in Berlusconi's separate trial have said El-Mahroug's testimony is unreliable and are relying on her sworn statements. The defense had initially called her as a witness, but then changed its strategy. That trial is nearing a verdict and will reconvene Friday.