As former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi prepares for his grand return to politics, Karima el-Mahroug, the erotic pole dancer at the heart of Berlusconi’s underage prostitution trial, has gone to Mexico with her boyfriend and baby daughter and won’t return until January, her attorney said on Tuesday.
Earlier this week, a nationwide search began in Italy after el-Mahroug, known as Ruby the Heart-Stealer, did not appear to testify in Milan. After failing to show up to court, el-Mahroug’s testimony was rescheduled for Dec. 17, but that date will now likely be pushed back until next month, and could mean a verdict in Berlusconi’s trial won’t come before the Italian elections, which will likely occur in February.
The news added a bizarre twist to a trial that some Italians already see as a farce. On Monday the lead prosecutor on the case, Ilda “The Red” Boccassini, accused Berlusconi’s lawyers of effectively exiling el-Mahroug in an attempt to stall proceedings as the former prime minister’s new campaign finds its footing. “This is a strategy to delay the proceedings while the election campaign gets under way,” she told the court. “I have known the strategies of the defense for defendant Berlusconi for a long time.”
In an attempt to wrap up the trial in a timely manner, she asked that el-Mahroug be wiped from the list of witnesses like other no-shows including George Clooney, who had been expected to testify in October. The judge declined the motion.
The bunga-bunga fairy tale between Berlusconi and el-Mahroug began on Valentine’s Day 2010, when the striking beauty was just 17 years old and allegedly met Berlusconi at a private party at his Villa San Martino in Arcore, near Milan. Shortly after the initial meeting, she allegedly began a sex-for-cash relationship with Berlusconi, who was then prime minister, according to court documents from his underage prostitution trial obtained by The Daily Beast.
Berlusconi, then 74, reportedly fancied her to such an extent that he asked his former dental hygienist turned politician, Nicole Minetti, to make sure that el-Mahroug was a regular at his so-called bunga-bunga parties. And when el-Mahroug got in trouble in May 2010 on an unrelated theft charge, Berlusconi allegedly called the Milan police station personally to spring her, telling the officers that she was the granddaughter of Hosni Mubarak, then-president of Egypt, and that keeping her in custody could cause an international incident. She was released to Minetti’s care, and Berlusconi now faces charges for abusing office by calling the cops to interfere on her behalf.
Prosecutors in Milan say they have proof that Berlusconi paid el-Mahroug for sex on 13 separate occasions after that fateful Valentine’s Day rendezvous, all when she was 17. Prostitution is not a crime in Italy unless it is with a minor. The age of consent in Italy is 14, but sex workers must be at least 18 to charge for the service. Berlusconi doesn’t deny knowing el-Mahroug, and he acknowledges giving her money “to help someone in need.” But the Italian media mogul and former prime minister says he never engaged in sex with the young woman—for payment or not. El-Mahroug says she accepted $60,000 from Berlusconi, but not for sex; instead she says it was for a hair-removal apparatus she needed to start a beauty center in Milan—an endeavor she hoped would get her out of the nightclubs and into a more suitable line of work, according to Berlusconi’s lawyers.
El-Mahroug never opened the beauty center, but she has grown up since her bunga-bunga days. She had a baby daughter named Sofy last December, and she appears to have settled down with the child’s father, 41-year-old Luca Risso, an entrepreneur who ran the Fellini nightclub in Genova. Risso is currently on trial for allegedly producing and peddling a raunchy video of el-Mahroug when she was 17. Risso says the video, which was made in his nightclub, was for personal use and not for mass-market distribution.
Appearing at the trial may be the last thing el-Mahroug wants to do. Last May, she told the German magazine Oesterreich that she planned to “emigrate with my fiancé to Mexico where I can start anew, because nobody will recognize me and unfairly point their finger at me.” But with Berlusconi’s campaign heating up, it may be too late for el-Mahroug to avoid the spotlight.