Berlusconi's femme fatale shocks Vienna

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The Independent Online

Not content with starring in a sex and corruption scandal that threatens to sink Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, teenage belly dancer Karima "Ruby" El Mahroug, is now raising eyebrows the other side of the Alps by accepting €40,000 (£34,000) to keep another septuagenarian magnate company – this time at Vienna's illustrious debutant Opera Ball.

Austrian real-estate mogul Richard Lugner, 78, was present to greet Ms El Mahroug, 18, when she arrived in Vienna's Schwechat airport on Tuesday afternoon. As she got off the tycoon's private jet dressed in tight jeans and white high heels, he gave her a bunch of flowers. She was then whisked away in an entourage of three white limousines to an unspecified luxury hotel in the Austrian capital, ahead of an appointment at the atelier of local designer Niko Fechter to try on her gown for tonight's ball.

Promoters of the famous Vienna society event are said to be furious over the millionaire's latest guest. However, Mr Lugner has previously scandalised elite circles by cavorting with young starlets. This year he is rumoured to have offered to pay American celebrity Bo Derek to attend the event. But the 54-year-old star of the comedy 10 was apparently swapped for the younger Moroccan competition when the actress upped her price.

The Austrian press says Mr Lugner is deliberately riling high society. And by choosing a teen belly dancer whom Mr Berlusconi is accused of hiring for sex while she was still a minor, it's hard to think how Mr Lugner could have chosen a more provocative date.

The event, in the Vienna State Opera at the close of the carnival season, has its origins in the 19th-century Hapsburg empire. Ms El Mahroug will compete for attention with debutants who had to audition to participate. Selection criteria include the capacity to waltz gracefully counter-clockwise. The debutants also wear white with crystal tiaras.