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Lawyers: Man hired women for sex with Berlusconi

ROME - An Italian businessman recruited more than 30 women to attend parties at Premier Silvio Berlusconi's homes, selecting them for their looks and age and paying some of them to have sex with the leader, prosecutors investigating the man say.

They allege that between September 2008 and May 2009 Gianpaolo Tarantini recruited women of "young age, slender frame," and told them what to wear and how to behave at the parties, according to a newly filed court document.

Prosecutors have wrapped up their investigation into Tarantini's alleged activities. In the document summing up their conclusions, they charge that Tarantini was paying the women so he could win favor with Berlusconi and, through him, obtain jobs with state-run companies and state agencies.

Berlusconi is not under investigation in the case. But the revelations are proving further embarrassment for the 74-year-old leader, already facing criticism over Italy's financial crisis and engulfed in a sex scandal.

"Italy Deserves Better," La Stampa newspaper said in an editorial Friday.

"To have a premier who must spend hours with his lawyers to map out strategies to defend himself undoubtedly damages the nation, as that time is taken away from institutional activities such as foreign affairs or public finances," the newspaper wrote.

Berlusconi is already on trial in separate cases in Milan on charges of corruption, tax fraud and paying for sex with a minor.

He might face another one after a Milan judge said Thursday he should be indicted for his role in the publication about five years ago, in a family-owned newspaper, of wiretaps that damaged a political rival and were covered by the secrecy of an ongoing probe. No decision on a possible indictment has been made.

The premier has always denied wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of politically driven magistrates intent on ousting him from power. He has maintained that the parties at his villas — now known as "bunga bunga" and described as sex-filled bacchanalia — were decent and elegant soirees where nothing tawdry was going on.

The premier has also denied ever paying for sex.

Tarantini has insisted Berlusconi didn't pay the women and didn't know that he did. Tarantini is under investigation for allegedly aiding and abetting prostitution.

The investigation in the southern city of Bari, where Tarantini was based, includes about 100,000 wiretapped conversations, according to Italian news reports. It targets eight people, including Tarantini, his brother and a woman nicknamed "Queen Bee" in the Italian media for her alleged role in recruiting women for the premier.

All eight have been notified that the investigation is closed, paving the way for a possible indictment request.

The recruited women included high-class escorts, such as Patrizia D'Addario, the woman whose revelation that she spent the night with Berlusconi when Barack Obama was elected president exposed the premier's sex scandals. They also included some minor starlets and would-be starlets.

Tarantini "persuaded them to prostitute themselves, or strengthened their initial resolve to prostitute themselves, during gatherings he organized at Silvio Berlusconi's residences," said the document, obtained by The Associated Press. The parties took place at Berlusconi's mansion near Milan, in his private home in central Rome and in his villa in Sardinia.

Tarantini's goal was "to consolidate his relationship with Silvio Berlusconi" and obtain contracts with companies such as engineering and construction firm Finmeccanica, or with the Civil Protection Department, the document alleges.

The Bari case — combined with the risk for Berlusconi of facing another trial, and with yet another probe in Naples where Tarantini is accused of blackmailing the premier — reignited calls for Berlusconi to resign.

Berlusconi has also been criticized recently for his reported comments in two conversations wiretapped as part of the Naples probe.

In one, Berlusconi reportedly gave a a disparaging assessment of his own country — using a vulgar term — saying he was sickened by it and wanted to leave. The premier then said he was speaking in a moment of frustration.

In the other, Berlusconi reportedly advised a man involved in the Naples probe, who is now wanted by police, to stay out of the country. A lawyer for Berlusconi, Niccolo Ghedini, told the ANSA news agency that the report was "baseless" and added that, in any case, at the time of the conversation police had not yet issued any arrest warrants against the man, Valter Lavitola.

Critics say Berlusconi's scandals damage Italy at a time where the country is fighting a financial crisis and seeking to reassure markets of its credibility. His supporters decry what they say is a violation of the premier's privacy.

Berlusconi insists he has done no wrongdoing, and said Tarantini has never blackmailed him. The premier — whose five-year term expires in 2013 — has dismissed any calls to resign.

He has so far refused being questioned by Naples prosecutors. But in a document given to them, he said he helped Tarantini because he and his wife were in desperate financial condition. Berlusconi even suggested he feared that Tarantini might hurt himself.

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