Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi today laughed off recordings that purport to record him talking with an escort who spent the night with him.
"I am not a saint as you all know by now," the 72-year-old told a group of businessmen and politicians at the opening of a highway project. "I hope La Repubblca will understand that too."
He was referring to the Italian newspaper that released allegedly incriminating remarks of Berlusconi this week that it claims were recorded by escort Patrizia D'Addario who has claimed she was paid to attend parties at the prime minister's house.
It was his first public comments since the recordings were released, but Berlusconi did not use the opportunity to deny that it was his voice. He did remark that "there are a lot of nice-looking girls around."
Berlusconi has previously denied ever paying women for sex. If the recordings are verified as authentic, it would be a big blow to Berlusconi who has also said he would resign if he was caught lying about sleeping with prostitutes.
D'Addario gave her tapes to Italian authorities who are investigating whether any crimes have been committed by associates of Berlusconi, including the man who arranged for women to attend private parties.
In the recordings made public this week, a man is heard telling D'Addario to wait for him in bed while he takes a shower.
D'Addario secretly recorded another conversation the morning after one such party, allegedly held on Nov. 4, the night of the U.S. elections and where Berlusconi skipped a public event that evening.
In the recordings made over breakfast, D'Addario complains that he had initially "caused her some pain," and the voice purported to be Berlusconi's asks her over their tea and coffer what is her full name for the first time after their night together.
D'Addario mentions that her voice is gone.
"But, why..?" the man asks. "We weren't shouting."
In a phone call later that day, the man says he has to leave for Moscow.
"I can call you when I am back?" he asks.
Woman Also Recorded Berlusconi Friend
"Okay," D'Addario replies. "A big kiss for you."
In other rumored scandals the prime minister has been very public in his own defense, but Berlusconi has remained silent on all these specific allegations, leaving the denials to come from members of his political party and other associates. Berlusconi's lawyer has dismissed the audio recordings has fakes and threatened legal action.
Prosecutors have already decided against an investigation into whether government funds were misused for parties in Rome or at Berlusconi' Sardinian villa, but they are investigating Gianpaolo Tarantini, who reportedly hired the women for the parties, according to D'Addario and others.
D'Addario also claims to have recorded conversations with Tarantini.
"You wanted to speak to me?" D'Addario says to Tarantini.
"I didn't want to speak to you. I wanted to tell you… that at 9:15 p.m. the driver will come and we are going there," Tarantini responds.
"It is a 1000 for the evening," she answers.
"One thousand now already, I have already give it to you… then if you stay with him… he will give you a gift, only him… ah, you will see that he doesn't use condoms…" Taranti replies.
"But this thing won't happen without condoms… how can I trust him," D'Addario says.
"Well, it's Berlusconi," he replies.
These audio recordings are the latest in a string of embarrassing accusations against the prime minister that became public when his wife, Veronica Lario, publically announced she was seeking a divorce because of his affinity for young women.
For months now the Italian media not controlled by the Berlusconi family has demanded explanations for his relationship with an 18 year old model, charges that he flew women to Sardinia on government planes to attend parties at his island villa, his explanation for photos showing nude guests frolicking around his pool, and now whether or not he knew prostitutes had been paid to attend his private parties and whether he had sex with these women.
While Berlusconi faces no legal action for any of the allegations, his political fortunes might have been affected by the string of embarrassing accusations. For the first time since the scandals came to light, his approval ratings have dropped below 50 percent, an indication that the normally blasé Italian public is beginning to disapprove of all the focus on his very public private life.