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'My parties just saucy fun' says Berlusconi

The former Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi, made a rare appearance yesterday at his Milan trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor, dismissing the notorious "bunga bunga" sessions at his Arcore mansion as "just a burlesque competition".

The 75-year-old is alleged to have paid for sex with the then 17-year-old belly dancer, Karima "Ruby" El Mahroug. He is also facing charges of abusing his office to cover up the act. He denies all the charges.

At yesterday's hearing, the mogul heard police officials relate how he had rung Milan police headquarters in May 2010 to secure the release of Ms El Mahroug after she was held on suspicion of theft. A senior official, Piero Ostuni, told the court that Mr Berlusconi suggested that Ms El Mahroug was the granddaughter of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and should be released into the safe hands of one of his associates. Prosecutors claim Mr Berlusconi was determined to get Ms El Mahroug away from the police before she spilled the beans on her involvement in the sex parties.

Despite the gravity of the charges, Mr Berlusconi appeared in combative and even nonchalant mood yesterday as he insisted that his Arcore parties were merely a bit of saucy fun. "Bunga bunga? It was just a burlesque competition," he told journalists during a break in proceedings.

One reporter asked Mr Berlusconi whether he "judged the competition". To which he replied: "No, I just watched, very interested and really enjoyed myself. And I'll continue to do it."