Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has told a gossip magazine he has never paid a woman for sex, as he continues to be dogged by suspicions stemming from his purported fondness for young models and starlets.
Berlusconi gave his first direct response to the claims in an interview with Chi magazine to be published Wednesday. Previously, he had simply dismissed as "garbage" and a smear campaign reports that an acquaintance of his had paid at least three women to attend parties at his residences.
"I have never paid a woman," Berlusconi was quoted as saying in the interview. "I never understood what the satisfaction is when you are missing the pleasure of conquest."
Berlusconi said that Patrizia D'Addario, the model at the center of the claims, was "very well paid" to make the allegations, which have prompted an investigation in the southern city of Bari into the local businessman accused of recruiting and paying the women.
In a statement to the ANSA news agency, D'Addario denied she had
been paid to mount a scandal.
Berlusconi has been on the defensive ever since his wife announced several weeks ago she was divorcing him, citing his selection of young starlets and showgirls for European Parliament elections and his presence at the birthday party of an 18-year-old model in Naples.
Berlusconi has insisted there was nothing scandalous in his relationship with Noemi Letizia, whom he has said was the daughter
of an old friend from political circles. He said he went to the party because he happened to be in Naples that day.
In the interview with Chi, Berlusconi was quoted as saying that he was "sad, but serene," over the end of his relationship with his wife, Veronica Lario.
"It was a very painful wound. I don't know if time will be able to cure it," he was quoted as saying in the interview provided in advance by Chi.
As the Letizia scandal began to abate, D'Addario told Italian media she was paid euro1,000 ($1,400) to attend a party at Berlusconi's Rome residence.
This was followed by similar claims by two other women and reports that D'Addario had given over to Bari prosecutors audio and video tapes proving the allegations.
Giampaolo Tarantini, the man accused in the Bari probe of favoring prostitution, has said he merely reimbursed the women for their travel and expenses. He said Berlusconi didn't know the expenses were paid.
Despite the scandals and criticism in local and international media, Berlusconi has kept his popularity intact, with his center-right forces emerging victorious from EU elections earlier this month and a spate of local and provincial runoffs.
According to results released Tuesday, Berlusconi's Freedom People's party snatched a half-dozen provinces from the center-left in voting Sunday and Monday, including the important provinces of Milan and Venice.
In addition, the center-right grabbed a handful of cities from the opposition, though the Democratic Party held on to its longtime strongholds in Florence and Bologna and kept the province of Turin as well.