ROME -- Silvio Berlusconi admitted Friday that he had been paying a number of girls, but insisted that he was only providing financial support to those whose lives had been ruined by a highly publicized investigation into alleged orgies at his villa.
Making a rare appearance in a Milan court to follow a trial in which he is accused of having had sex with an underage prostitute, Italy's former prime minister was asked by reporters to explain a number of suspicious bank transfers uncovered by investigators.
"Yes, I am supporting all the girls who have been ruined by the prosecuting office," Berlusconi said during a break in court proceedings.
Some of them had lost their job or their boyfriends, while in some cases their parents were forced to close their businesses as a result of the case, Berlusconi said.
About 30 girls have had their lives "ruined" by the trial, when "their only mistake was to accept a dinner invitation from me," the ANSA news agency quoted him as saying.
The media baron also provided his version of events following testimonies that some of the girls who used to frequent his Arcore villa dressed up as nurses, nuns, policewomen and, in one case, as Brazilian football star Ronaldinho, who used to play for his AC Milan club.
"They were practicing for burlesque competitions," he said.
The 75-year-old said only "elegant dinners" took place at his home. Sometimes, the guests would head for a room downstairs -- which he described as "my children's old discotheque" -- where everything that happened took place in a "joyous" atmosphere.
Berlusconi, who stepped down as premier in November, is accused of having paid for sex with Karima el-Mahroug, a Moroccan dancer also known as Ruby, Stealer of Hearts, when she was still 17 years old.
Having sex with an underage prostitute is a crime in Italy.
He is also accused of abusing his position by putting pressure on the police to release el-Mahroug from custody by claiming she was the nephew of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Berlusconi, who denies the charges, said he had decided to attend Friday's hearing to "see the show, a huge media defamation operation," and accused the judiciary of wasting tax-payer's money on a "useless trial."
Some of the colorful details about Berlusconi's alleged sex parties were provided to the court during Monday's hearing by Imane Fadil, one of several women expected to testify for the prosecution.
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