Berlusconi hired strippers in nun gear: witness

Girls in nun costumes and one wearing a mask of footballer Ronaldinho stripped for Silvio Berlusconi, a witness said Monday at the former Italian premier's trial for having sex with an underage prostitute.

Model Imane Fadil said the first time she went to a party she was given 2,000 euros ($2,600) in cash by Berlusconi, who told her: "Don't be offended."

That night she said she saw two young women in nun costumes with "black tunics, white veils and crosses" stripping in front of the then prime minister.

One of the two was Nicole Minetti, now a regional councillor for Berlusconi's People of Freedom party in Milan, Moroccan-born Fadil said.

She claimed Minetti and the other woman stayed the night at the villa near Milan and said women who remained got more money to have sex with Berlusconi.

At another party Fadil said she saw a young Brazilian model "with an AC Milan jersey and a Ronaldinho mask, who stripped down to her thong."

Ronaldinho was at Milan, which is owned by Berlusconi, from 2008 to 2011.

Fadil also said she offered Berlusconi a bit of advice on his diplomatic affairs with Moamer Kadhafi when the Libyan dictator came to visit Italy.

"I told him it was better to go and meet Kadhafi because we Arabs can be touchy," she said.

Berlusconi is charged with having sex with an underage prostitute, Moroccan Karima El-Mahroug, and then allegedly abusing his powers by getting police to release her when she was arrested for theft to hide his crime.

He was not in court on Monday but is due to testify later in the trial.

El-Mahroug, a dancer who was 17 when she allegedly had sex with the prime minister, is better known by her stage name of "Ruby the Heart Stealer".

Berlusconi rejects all charges and El-Mahroug denies having sex with him.

The Corriere della Sera daily has reported that Berlusconi last year paid a total of 127,000 euros ($165,000) to three witnesses -- Minetti and two other girls -- when the trial against him had already started.

Berlusconi's lawyer rejected allegations that the payments were intended to influence testimony, saying they were an example of his "usual generosity."

Speaking to the Il Giornale daily owned by his family, Berlusconi himself said: "Minetti asked me for help at a time of difficulty, and I happily gave it to her. When someone in difficulty asks for help, you don't ask what for."

Italian media said Minetti used the money to pay her legal fees in a separate trial against her for allegedly procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi.

The other two recipients were twins Eleonora and Imma De Vivo who are alleged by prosecutors to have performed strip shows for the then premier.

"Where could these people have found a job after having been so heavily dragged into a scandal built around me in which they were unwitting victims?" he told Il Giornale.

"When I am confronted with dramatic and touching cases, I don't hesitate to intervene whether it be for individuals or for charities."

The billionaire tycoon was ousted from power in November 2011 following a parliamentary revolt against his increasingly scandal-tainted rule and a wave of panic on the financial markets that pushed Italy to the brink of default.

He is a defendant in two other trials -- for tax fraud and for violating official secrets. An Italian court this year threw out separate bribery charges against him under the statute of limitations following a five-year trial.

Despite his being convicted several times of corruption and false accounting in the past, all cases against Berlusconi have either been overturned or expired after years of moving laboriously through Italy's justice system.

Also on Monday, a Berlusconi associate wanted in connection with another scandal returned to Italy after six months on the run in South America.

Valter Lavitola, a former newspaper editor, was arrested on arrival from Argentina and was transferred to a prison in Naples.

Lavitola allegedly took part in a blackmail plot against Berlusconi and police had issued a warrant for his arrest in September last year.

Eight people, including businessman Giampaolo Tarantini and German starlet Sabina Began, were charged in September for allegedly supplying Berlusconi with prostitutes in the hope of gaining jobs, contracts or favours in exchange.

Tarantini is accused of then blackmailing the premier to the tune of 800,000 euros ($1.0 million) and Lavitola is suspected of having been the middle man for these payments and receiving a cut, according to prosecutors.