For Silvio Berlusconi, it’s getting tougher than ever to be both a media mogul and a politician as the fallout around his purported sexual escapades grows.
Scandals, of course, are nothing new for the billionaire TV tycoon — Italy’s longest serving postwar prime minister, who has been investigated dozens of times since taking office.
But this latest probe has him on the ropes. Berlusconi, 74, is alleged to have paid for sex with 18-year-old nightclub dancer Ruby Rubacouri — believed to be a minor at the time — and to have hosted what wiretap transcripts describe as “orgiastic” parties with aspiring young showgirls at his mansion outside Milan.
Others under investigation by Milan magistrates for allegedly exploiting or aiding prostitution of a minor are celeb agent Lele Mora, politician Nicole Minetti (a former showgirl at Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV group) and journalist Emilio Fede, head of news at Mediaset’s Rete 4 TV station,
Last week, Berlusconi, who claims the probe is a smear job by politically hostile magistrates, personally phoned political TV yakkers as part of his counteroffensive.
“I’ve been watching a disgusting show, conducted in a despicable, vile and repugnant way,” Berlusconi, a conservative, told left-leaning journo Gad Lerner, host of “L’infedele” (The Infidel). The talkshow airs on La7, one of the few commercial stations Berlusconi doesn’t control.
“Why don’t you go before the magistrates instead of insulting people?” Lerner replied to the prime minister, who has refused to heed a summons to appear in court for questioning.
Giovanni Floris, on pubcaster RAI 3’s yakker “Ballaro,” refused to take Berlusconi’s call, and was accused by the prime minister’s camp of censorship.
A couple of days earlier, Rubacouri, whose name translates to heart-stealer (her real name is Karima El-Mahroug) was driving up ratings on Mediaset’s flagship Canale 5 station, telling tabloid talkshow “Kalispera” that “Berlusconi never laid a finger on me” and recalling that when they were introduced, she lied and told him she was 24.
This soap opera is not winning Berlusconi any points with the Catholic Church, the wrath of which is believed to be having far-reaching consequences for Mediaset.
One of Italy’s most popular magazines, Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family), recently complained that Berlusconi’s acquaintance with Rubacouri was indecent, asking “how will Catholics vote in the next election?”
This, pundits say, explains why Mediaset execs this month caved in to pressure from the Bishops Conference, which demanded, and obtained, the ouster of three contestants from the “Big Brother” house for blasphemy. The decision stunned viewers of the show, where cursing God is not a novelty. Mediaset owns more than 30% of “Big Brother” producer Endemol, which has not commented.
Meanwhile, publisher Mondadori last week parted ways with its best-selling author Roberto Saviano (“Gomorrah”).
Saviano, while receiving an honorary degree, praised the Milan magistrates investigating the Berlusconi sex scandal, incensing Mondadori prexy Marina Berlusconi, Berlusconi’s daughter, who said she was “horrified” by the comments.
Saviano will publish his next book with Feltrinelli.