MILAN (AP) — The Moroccan woman at the center of a sex scandal involving former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi testified Friday in court for the first time, describing how a young woman attending one of Berlusconi's "bunga bunga" parties dressed up like a nun, danced provocatively and stripped down to her underwear for the premier.
Karima el-Mahroug took the witness stand in the trial of three former Berlusconi aides charged with recruiting her and other women for prostitution. They deny the charges. The trial is separate from the one in which Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with a minor — el-Mahroug herself — and trying to cover it up.
El-Mahroug, also known as Ruby, 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.
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.
El-Mahroug's testimony Friday confirmed the sexual atmosphere at Berlusconi's infamous "bunga bunga" parties, which were filled with beautiful young women. Many of those women have said they received money from the billionaire media mogul.
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 wound up landing a job as a hostess in nightclubs, earning around 100 euros ($130) a night.
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 outside of Milan.
She testified that she met the premier that night — on Valentine's Day in 2010 — and that 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 telephone 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 at the time but had passed herself off as being 24.
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.
El-Mahroug said Minetti, one of the defendants, had dressed up like a nun at that Feb. 14 party and lifted her costume to show off her legs as she danced in Berlusconi's in-house disco, which was outfitted with a lap-dance pole. El-Mahroug demonstrated from her seat how Minetti had raised her hemline. She said Minetti eventually took off her costume and was in just her lingerie.
She said other girls dressed up as President Barack Obama and a Milan magistrate who is leading the prosecution against Berlusconi in the sex scandal.
"The girls who were dressed in costumes approached him in a sensual way as they danced. They raised their skirts," El-Mahroug testified. She added: "I never saw contact."
El-Mahroug said she visited Berlusconi's mansion, Arcore, a half-dozen times, and that each time she was given an envelope with money, always in 500 euro bills ($645 each). The second evening she went she said she was given around 2,000 euros.
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 and didn't call her. That trial is nearing a verdict.
Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.