Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is being investigated for allegedly paying for sex with a teenage nightclub dancer and using his office to cover it up, Corriere della Sera newspaper reported on its website.
The two alleged offenses carry sentences totaling 15 years in jail.
The news comes a day after Italy’s top court cleared the way for Berlusconi to stand trial on fraud and corruption charges after softening a temporary immunity law that protected him. Berlusconi is already fighting for his political survival after narrowly winning a confidence vote in parliament last month.
Investigators are reportedly examining whether Berlusconi, 74, intervened to have Karima El Mahroug, 17 at the time of the alleged offenses, released from a police station last May after she was held for an alleged theft.
Mahroug, otherwise known as Ruby Rubacuori or Ruby Heartstealer, told investigators then that she had attended parties at Berlusconi's villa near Milan. One of these, she was reported to have said, ended in an erotic game known to participants as "bunga bunga."
Berlusconi has acknowledged knowing Mahroug, a Moroccan who had run away from a care home. Mahroug has told newspapers she was paid 7,000 euros after she attended a party at Berlusconi's residence near Milan. But he has denied any wrongdoing in the case.
In a statement Friday, reported in the Guardian, Berlusconi's lawyers called the teenage prostitution investigation a "very serious interference in the private life" of the prime minister.
The case of "Ruby," became public last October when it emerged that Berlusconi had called Milan police to get her out of trouble when she was detained for alleged theft in May.
Berlusconi has acknowledged calling police on her behalf, but says he was merely offering normal assistance to a person in need.
Instead of being returned to the care home, Mahroug was handed over to a confidante of the prime minister, Nicole Minetti.
Minetti, a former showgirl, became Berlusconi's dental hygienist and, soon afterwards, a regional parliamentarian for his Freedom People movement. She is already under investigation for aiding and abetting prostitution, along with two other close associates of the prime minister.
The age of sexual consent in Italy is 14, but paying for sex with a prostitute under 18 is an offense punishable by three years in jail. Politicians and others found guilty of abusing their position risk jail sentences of up to 12 years.