ROME – Karima el-Mahroug, the Morocco-born cabaret dancer prosecutors say Italy's Silvio Berlusconi paid to have sex with him when she was 17, has staged a one-woman protest outside the Milan courthouse where Berlusconi’s so-called “Bunga Bunga” trial is taking place, insisting she should be allowed to testify.
Now 20, el-Mahroug, best known by her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer," denies ever having sex with the 76-year-old Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon, irregardless of payment. And she denies she ever worked as prostitute, claiming she has been mis-characterized in the press, “despite the fact that I have always denied having sex for money with anyone, and particularly with Silvio Berlusconi.”
The trial (“Bunga Bunga” is the name Berlusconi’s used for his alleged sex parties at his Sardinian villa) comes as the owner of Italy’s Mediaset television and cinema giant and the AC Milan soccer team owner is in the midst of a protracted political crisis. Berlusconi, along with center-left rival Pier Luigi Bersani and comedian-turned activist Beppe Grillo, is seeking to negotiate a deal to form a new government.
Prosecutors in Milan charge that Berlusconi paid el-Mahroug for sex when she was a minor and was guilty of abuse of power in an attempt to get her off the hook on misdemeanor theft charges. If guilty, Berlusconi could face up to 15 years behind bars.
It would not be Berlusconi’s first sentence: in the last six months he has been convicted of tax evasion in connection with Mediaset acquisition deals and sentenced to four years in prison and to a further year in a wiretapping case. Berlusconi’s lawyers have appealed both guilty rulings.
El-Mahroug said that the main proof she worked as a prostitute came from photographs taken from Facebook: “I was just 17 at the time, and did not consider what prosecutors and the press might make of them,” she said.
She also said she was making her statement in order to clear her name so that her newborn daughter can grow up “proud of her mother.” She and her partner, a nightclub owner, say el-Mahroug's name has been unfairly sullied by the trial and resulting media attention. “I wish to protest that I have not been heard in court,” she said.
The controversial Berlusconi also denies wrongdoing in the case, saying that el-Mahroug is only a friend.