Italy's president has said the country is in "turmoil" over the under-age prostitution accusations against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, signaling that Berlusconi's days in office could be numbered.
Giorgio Napolitano said he hoped Berlusconi would respond swiftly to Milan prosecutors' charges that he compensated Moroccan-born Karima el-Mahroug, nicknamed “Ruby Rubacuori,” or “Ruby Heart-Stealer,” for sex at his villa outside Milan when she was a minor.
Meanwhile, wiretapped conversations have reportedly emerged revealing Mahroug saying that she had been attending parties at Berlusconi’s villa since she was 16.
Now 18, Mahroug said she had asked Berlusconi for 5 million euros, or $6.7 million, to keep quiet, according to the wiretaps published Tuesday in the Italian press.
Berlusconi, 74, who denies any wrongdoing and says he did not know Mahroug was a minor, is also accused of helping to get her released from police custody when she was detained for theft last spring.
Allegations that “a significant number” of young women had prostituted themselves to the prime minister, obtaining cash or rent-free housing in exchange for sex have left Italy reeling.
The investigation comes after a court ruling partially stripped the prime minister of political immunity.
While having sex with prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, having sex with a minor is punishable with a prison sentence under a law voted in by Berlusconi's government in 2006. The prime minister is also accused of using his office to cover up his dealings with Mahroug after she was arrested on theft charges.
Religious, political and business leaders have united to call for a quick end to an affair that has brought ''shame'' on the nation.
Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops' Conference, said "the mere idea that a man who sits atop Italian institutions is implicated in stories of prostitution — worse yet, prostitution of a minor — is hurtful and upsetting."
Berlusconi's center-right government is sensitive to losing Catholic support.
The head of the powerful business coalition, Confindustria, Emma Marcegaglia, warned that ''it is time to take some quick decisions because this nation needs a government that can indeed govern.''
Intercepted telephone conversations splashed across the press have gripped Italy this week and lifted the lid for the first time on Berlusconi's so-called ''bunga bunga'' parties, revealing that even the women who took part in erotic games and stripteases were shocked by what they witnessed.
In one, between twin sisters, a dinner at Berlusconi's villa is discussed in shocking detail.
''I saw him looking much fatter, uglier,'' said one girl. ''Last year he was in better form … He has even become ugly. He's just got to pay up.''
In another taped conversation, published Tuesday in La Repubblica, Mahroug said the prime minister had offered to pay her to keep quiet about her detention for theft. “He called me, telling me, ‘Ruby, I’ll give you as much money as you want, I’ll pay you, I’ll cover you in gold, but the important thing is that you hide everything; don’t tell anyone anything.’ ”