Rome

Berlusconi 'never said' Ruby was Mubarak relative

Ex-premier says has 'cordial' relations with pope

Berlusconi 'never said' Ruby was Mubarak relative

(see related stories) Rome, January 2 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday denied ever having claimed a women he is accused of paying to have sex with before she was 18 was related to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Berlusconi is on trial for allegedly having sex with an underage prostitute nicknamed Ruby during his third stint as premier, and using his position to allegedly try to hush it up. "I've never said that Ruby was Mubarak's niece. It was an invention of the newspapers, she (Ruby) told me that she was a daughter of a family close to president Mubarak," he said on Italian television. Berlusconi's defence has been that he intervened with police when Ruby, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, was arrested for alleged theft because he was trying to avoid a diplomatic incident. He told TV station Sky TG24 that the case was "a monstrous defamation operation mounted by the Milan court," to justify a major investigation. The ex-premier also boasted Wednesday that he has good relations with Pope Benedict XVI in the latest in a long series of TV appearances ahead of next month's general elections in Italy. Berlusconi was forced to resign as prime minister in November 2011 when the country's debt crisis threatened to spiral out of control and his government was replaced by an emergency administration of unelected technocrats led by outgoing Premier Mario Monti. Several Italian Catholic publications have strongly criticised the media magnate, who has been hit by a series of sex scandals, including the Ruby case, and was given a four-year prison sentence in October in relation to tax fraud in the trading of film rights for TV broadcasts by his Mediaset media empire. But the 76-year-old media magnate said he has a warm relationship with the head of the Church. "I've received telephone calls and made visits to pontiffs," Berlusconi said. "There is also absolute devotion on my part with the current pope and absolute cordiality with me on his part". Berlusconi also said that the recent endorsement of Monti's bid for office by Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano did not mean the former European commissioner had the backing of the Holy See. "It wasn't an endorsement from the Vatican but from L'Osservatore Romano, and that is very different," Berlusconi said. "We have excellent relations (with the Church). We are liberals and we think there should be freedom of conscience, but we always behaved a certain way with issues regarding the Church in government and we always received praise from the Vatican and the Church". Berlusconi said the fact that he had dropped plans to retire from frontline politics to lead the centre-right at the upcoming elections did not necessarily mean he would be the coalition's premier if they won. He said coalitions only name a premier candidate after the elections, as well as a candidate to be the next Italian president, a post he is thought to hold ambitions of holding. He also accused Monti of breaking a vow not to enter the political fray made when the former European commissioner was appointed premier with the backing of Italy's three biggest mainstream political groups, including Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party. Monti said last month he would run for premier at the head of a group of parties willing to back his reform agenda. "Monti does not have credibility any more," he said. "He was put at the head of a technocrat government with a promise - he said he would not take advantage of the promotion. "He promised all the Italian people and now we find him as the leader of a coalition of fellow travellers". He added that he considered centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani to be his real opponent in the elections, not Monti. "No. No," Berlusconi said when asked whether he thought Monti was his main adversary. "Our opponent is always the party that comes from the Communist ideology," he said referring to Bersani's Democratic Party (PD). "It has changed name but it has radical roots in that idea and has Bersani as its representative". Bersani is a veteran of Italy's former Communist party, the rump of which changed into a social democratic party after the fall of the Berlin wall before merging with the centrist Margherita (Daisy) party to form the PD in 2007. Berlusconi also expressed confidence he could revive the PdL's long-standing alliance with the Northern League, which ended after Berlusconi's third government collapsed. The League were staunch opponents of Monti's government from the time it took over power, while the PdL backed it until last month. Northern League leader Roberto Maroni recently told Berlusconi that the alliance would not be resumed if the ex-premier were to run for office again. "The alliance is in a phase in which the details are being addressed," Berlusconi said. "I'm convinced that we will be allied like we were for many years". The PdL is behind in the polls and has little chance of winning next month's elections without the support of the League.

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