Karima El Mahroug, the woman at the center of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's latest sex scandal, says that when she was 9 years old, she was raped by two men, then told by her mother to keep quiet because she feared how Karima's father would react if he discovered she wasn't a virgin. When Karima was 12, her father spilled a pan of boiling oil on her after she told him she had converted from Islam to Catholicism.
In a late-night interview on the largest of Berlusconi's three television channels on Wednesday, El Mahroug, now 18, parted her hair to show the scars from the oil burns and explained how she had developed a "parallel life" after leaving her house shortly afterward one in which she told friends she was older than she really was and went to Italy to study. "In front of other people, I've always maintained the image of a Wonder Woman, capable of conquering the world, without showing these tears that I'm finally able to show," she told Alfonso Signorini, host of the Italian talk show Kalispéra!
Seated in an armchair on a set made up to resemble a living room, El Mahroug contradicted many of the charges at the center of the scandal in which Berlusconi is alleged by prosecutors to have paid her for sex when she was 17 years old and to have abused the power of his office when he called a police station last May to have her released after she was detained on suspicion of theft.
El Mahroug described Berlusconi as a benefactor who, because he took pity on her, gave her an envelope filled with €7,000 after she attended a chaste dinner at his mansion last Valentine's Day, during which the Prime Minister cracked jokes, sang and listened to her problems. "He never laid even a finger on me," she said on Wednesday. "I don't understand why people need to see nastiness where nastiness doesn't exist."
In the interview, El Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer who also went by the name of Ruby Rubacuori "Ruby, Stealer of Hearts" stressed that she told Berlusconi she was 24 and that she left his mansion as soon as the dinner was over. She added that she visited Berlusconi's house a few times more and received a necklace from him. But she said she never worked as a prostitute though she had tried once and failed when she yelled at a client.
El Mahroug's description of the events with Berlusconi was seemingly at odds with what has been disclosed in hundreds of pages of leaked prosecutorial evidence, which depict "bunga bunga" parties featuring women dressed as nurses and police officers and the exchange of jewelry and thousands of euros for sex. In one testimony, a woman who had once been friends with El Mahroug recounted to prosecutors how the young Moroccan had told her she often went to Berlusconi's home, danced and had sex with him, and received a lot of money in return. El Mahroug has denied having sex with Berlusconi.
According to Italian press reports, the evidence includes transcripts of a wiretap on El Mahroug's phone in which she tells a friend she had been a visitor at Berlusconi's house since she was 16 but always denied everything. In another conversation, taped in October, she tells her boyfriend at the time that she told "Silvio" she wanted €5 million as compensation for having her name sullied and that the Prime Minister had agreed: "He called me himself, telling me, 'Ruby, I'll give you as much money as you want ... I'll cover you in gold. But the important thing is that you hide everything. Don't tell anybody anything.' "
Berlusconi, who also took to the nation's television screens on Wednesday night, has denied all the charges. "This girl has told [the prosecutors] and a thousand times to all Italian and foreign newspapers that she never, ever had sex with me," he said in a televised address before El Mahroug's interview aired. "In addition, she and her lawyers have unequivocally denied that she had requested or received offers of money." The Prime Minister added that he believes the accusations have been drummed up by politicized prosecutors who, bent on "subverting the popular vote," have brought charges against him 28 times in 17 years. He said he would not answer a summons to appear in court this weekend, saying that doing so would be an endorsement of a process he considers illegitimate.
Asked at the end of her interview what she saw in her future, El Mahroug answered, "I'll tell the truth: marriage." Signorini called her boyfriend, nightclub owner Luca Risso, 41, to the stage, and asked how the couple was doing. "It's very stressful," Risso answered, kneeling next to El Mahroug. "But I try to be close to her."