ROME (AP) — Premier Silvio Berlusconi issued an unapologetic defense of his lifestyle Friday amid the latest scandal involving his personal life, admitting that he intervened to secure the release from police custody of a 17-year-old Moroccan girl who had previously been at his villa.
Berlusconi, 74, denied that he had done anything inappropriate in securing the release of the Moroccan runaway nicknamed Ruby, and scoffed at press reports that portrayed their interaction as improper.
The disclosure comes at a difficult time for Berlusconi, who is grappling with street protests in Naples over his failure to stop a trash crisis there, a weakened government coalition and his declining popularity in the polls.
Saying “I love life, I love women,” the Italian leader insisted he was proud of his lifestyle, which has come under scrutiny for his purported dalliances with young women and an encounter with a prostitute unveiled last year.
Without citing sources, several newspapers have reported that Ruby told prosecutors she attended dinners at Berlusconi’s villa in Arcore, outside Milan, although she has denied having sex with the premier. Berlusconi has dismissed the scandal as “media trash.”
“I’ve got nothing to clarify,” Berlusconi said Friday. “I’m a playful person, full of life. I love life, I love women.”
“Nobody can make me, at my age, change my lifestyle, of which I am absolutely proud,” the 74-year-old told reporters in Brussels.
Il Fatto Quotidiano, a left-leaning newspaper that is frequently critical of Berlusconi, first reported this week that Milan prosecutors were looking into Ruby’s story after police discovered her without documents and reported her to social workers. She reportedly admitted she had lied about being over 18.
According to Il Fatto Quotidiano, Ruby’s story is full of contradictions and even prosecutors are wary of her claims.
Berlusconi did not deny Friday that the girl was at his home, but declined to provide any more details beyond what Ruby has already said. Berlusconi’s close friend and confidante Emilio Fede was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera on Friday that he has seen the girl at the villa “a couple of times.”
Ruby was quoted as saying in another Italian daily, La Stampa, that she has been to Berlusconi’s villa once and the premier thought she was 24. When Berlusconi found out she was a minor, he did not want to see her again, Ruby was quoted as saying.
Political analysts said the latest setbacks might take their toll on an already embattled premier. Berlusconi has been facing rebellion from a breakaway ally and his coalition is having a difficult time hammering out legislation to shield the premier from his legal woes.
Professor Franco Pavoncello of John Cabot University in Rome said “it’s like chipping away at a stone.”
While some in the opposition are raising questions over the lifestyle and decorum that are required from a public figure, a lot of the controversy is centering on whether Berlusconi intervened to get Ruby out of trouble when she had been reportedly picked up by Milan police.
Berlusconi said Friday that he did help her, but denied he misused his office.
“I have not influenced anybody,” Berlusconi said. He said the intervention was aimed at informing Milan police that somebody available to act as the girl’s guardian was going to the police station where she was being held.
“Since this person (Ruby) had depicted a tragic life situation to me, I have decided to help her,” he said.
Last year, a high-end escort Patrizia D’Addario claimed she had spent a night with the premier and had tape recorded their encounter. The conservative Italian leader has said he has never paid anyone for sex. Prosecutors have said Berlusconi was not under investigation.