Silvio Berlusconi was facing fresh embarrassment last night after audio tapes surfaced of a supposed dalliance with a high-end prostitute at his Rome residence.
"I'm going to take a shower too. If you finish before me, wait for me on the big bed," a man purported to be the Italian Prime Minister can be heard saying. "Which bed? Putin's?" queries his companion, Patrizia D'Addario. "Oh, how cute, the one with the curtains."
The reason why the fabric-covered bed is named after the Russian premier remains a mystery. But the audio tapes – posted online yesterday by Italian newspaper La Repubblica and weekly magazine L'Espresso – offer a tantalising glimpse into how Mr Berlusconi reportedly spent the night of 4 November 2008, when the rest of the world was waiting to see whether Barack Obama would become the first black occupant of the White House.
Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, immediately disputed the veracity of the tapes, dismissing them as being "without any merit, completely improbable and the product of the imagination". Government minister Gianfrano Rotondi said it was an attempt by leftist media to "intimidate" the government by "the violation of every ethic" in journalism.
Mr Berlusconi has been dogged by sexual scandal ever since his wife announced she was divorcing him in May, tipped over the edge by his presence at the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model. Next came a flurry of pictures of naked people cavorting at his Sardinian villa, and then details of his alleged dealings with escort girls emerged during an investigation into supposed prostitution rackets in the southern city of Bari.
One conversation on the tapes is between Ms D'Addario and the businessman at the heart of that investigation, Giampaolo Tarantini. She phones him after her night with the premier and brags: "We didn't get a wink of sleep all night." Ms D'Addario then complains that there was no promised envelope with the €5,000 she had been expecting, although, she says, "I was given a present, I don't know, a little turtle thing". She says she also got a promise that the Prime Minister would send her some aides to help with problems she was having getting a B&B built. "And then he said he wanted to see me again with a female friend because [he wanted the] two of us."
Mr Berlusconi has not denied that Ms D'Addario came to Palazzo Grazioli, but has said he did not know the 42-year-old was an escort. Mr Tarantini has apologised for the scandal, saying he brought the women to the premier's residence to show off and they were only paid travel expenses.
The Italian electorate has largely shrugged off the furore surrounding Mr Berlusconi. His party won big in last month's European elections and his approval rating is still around 50 per cent. His successful hosting of this month's G8 summit in the earthquake-devasted city of L'Aquila finally seemed to turn attention back to his political skills. Then came the escort tapes.
According to the transcripts, Mr Berlusconi phoned Ms D'Addario the day after their assignation on the Putin bed. He marvels at how he has got through a busy day, despite the lack of sleep. She tells him she's lost her voice. "Eh, how come?" the Prime Minister replies. "We didn't scream." "And I didn't yell," Ms D'Addario says. "Who knows why my voice has gone. Do you know why? Because I took 10 showers in ice-cold water because I was hot."
Silvio's secrets: The tape transcripts
Silvio: I’m going to take a shower too. And if you finish before me, wait for me on the big bed.
Patrizia: Which bed? Putin's?
Patrizia: Oh, how cute! The one with the curtains.
Silvio: Everything good?
Patrizia: Yes, you?
Silvio: Me, yes. I've worked a lot. This morning I went to open an exhibition, I made a wonderful speech, that got lots of applause, and I don't seem too tired.
Patrizia: Ah, just like me in fact. I'm not tired, I've not slept. It's just my voice that has gone.
Silvio: Eh, how come? We didn't scream.