POLITICS

Opposition demands to know if Berlusconi used state planes to fly escorts

09/17/2011 11:50 EDT | Updated 11/17/2011 05:12 EST
ROME - Opposition leaders demanded an inquiry Saturday to see if Italian government aircraft flew a bevy of young escorts to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's private parties.

Concern was also growing in Italy over whether the billionaire media mogul, who allegedly boasted in an intercepted phone conversation that he "did only eight" women in one night, can concentrate on rescuing Italy from its severe economic woes.

Italian newspapers Saturday were filled with transcripts of intercepted phone conversations of a jailed southern businessman, Gianpaolo Tarantini, who is being investigated for allegedly arranging and paying for women to prostitute themselves with Berlusconi at parties at his private residences in Rome, the Sardinia seacoast, and near Milan.

Intercepted conversations that are part of investigations may be published once they are officially deposited in the court — in this case, in Bari, southeast Italy.

Berlusconi, who turns 75 later this month, has denied ever paying for sex. But he has boasted of his weakness for young, beautiful women, an inclination cited by his second wife, who is divorcing him.

Prostitution is not a crime in Italy, but exploiting prostitutes, as Tarantini is alleged to have done to try to curry favours with Berlusconi to win state contracts, is. In a separate probe, Tarantini is jailed for allegedly extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Berlusconi. The prime minister says he gave Tarantini and Tarantini's wife, who was also arrested, money because he is a generous man who was trying to help a "family in need."

The Milan daily Corriere della Sera quoted Berlusconi as telling Tarantini in one telephone call that he had to go that evening to Milan because the plane at his disposition was only available then. Tarantini then purportedly asks Berlusconi if he and some of the women could go with him from Rome to Milan, and the prime minister replies, "You can."

Leoluca Orlandi of the opposition centrist Italy of Values party insisted that Berlusconi say if government planes "paid with taxpayer money" flew paid escorts to his private soirees. Orlandi added in a statement that his party has asked the prime minister's office to conduct an urgent inquiry.

The speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, meanwhile, suggested it was time for Berlusconi to step down.

"No one understands why the prime minister is dedicating a good deal of his time to questions not related to fighting the economic crisis and relaunching the economy," Gianfranco Fini, a former Berlusconi ally, told reporters at a rally near Milan.

Corriere della Sera cautioned its readers that in running four full pages of transcripts it left out "the heavier or more vulgar passages, as well as detailed sexual descriptions" that were picked up in the phone calls intercepted by Italy's financial police.

The Rome daily La Repubblica quoted Berlusconi telling Tarantini in one call in early 2009 that one night 11 women were lined outside his room. The prime minister then confided that "I only did eight of them because I couldn't do it anymore." He adding that, while "you can't do all of them," the next morning he felt "well, satisfied with my ability to resist."