Any hope Silvio Berlusconi might have had of putting the summer sex scandals behind him evaporated last night when state television broadcast a live interview with the prostitute who claims to have taped her intimate bedroom conversations with the Italian Premier.
Patrizia D'Addario – who at 42 is more than 30 years Mr Berlusconi's junior – has already made what she claimed were tapes of their intimate pillow talk. But the potential political embarrassment she might cause on live TV had the government incandescent in the run-up to last night's broadcast.
And she duly delivered by dismissing the Prime Minister's claims that he was unaware that she was a call girl, in a live interview beamed from the southern city of Bari. "He knew – everyone at the parties knew," she said in reference to the now infamous gatherings the media mogul premier hosted in Rome and Sardinia.
Mr Berlusconi, whose Mediaset empire controls three private TV channels, dismissed the show as a "criminal use of public television". "Inviting a prostitute on to throw mud at the prime minister is a disgrace," he had earlier told La Stampa newspaper.
The Italian leader denies having paid for sex, or knowingly sleeping with prostitutes, and has dismissed claims by his estranged wife that he frequents minors, including Noemi Letizia, a would-be starlet whose 18th birthday party he attended.
D'Addario, who faced hovered on a giant screen above the seated guests, flicked her long blond hair nervously as she listened to Berlusconi supporters accuse her of exploiting and then betraying the Prime Minister.
She denied however, that she had given the supposed recordings of their pillow talk to the press. And she said that she had "absolutely nothing to be ashamed of".
Although the explosive mix of Italian politics and scandal has made headlines around the world for months, it is only in the last week that the country's own television outlets have broken the silence regarding D'Addario's claims.
State broadcaster Rai aired pre-recorded clips of her on last week's Annozero show, drawing 5.6 million viewers but provoking strong condemnation from the Berlusconi camp and a campaign for viewers to boycott paying their licence fee.
Annozero host, Michele Santoro, whose belligerence stands out in a sea of supine Italian TV presenters, yesterday shrugged off threats of fines and official investigations, revealing that the provisional title for the show had been "No Gianpi, no Party".
Businessman Gianpaolo Tarantini, to whom he was referring, is said to have procurred D'Addario and other prostitutes and paid their wages for Berlusconi's notorious "festini", or adult parties, in Rome and Sardinia. Tarantini was arrested two weeks ago for suspected cocaine dealing.
Earlier, deputy communications minister, Paolo Romani, had warned that the government would be "even more attentive" about whether RAI was adhering to its public service mandate, in view of the new D'Addario interview. He has launched an inquiry into Annozero, using an article of the broadcasting constitution that enables ministers to subpoena documents and check sources. He warned that if RAI was found to have broken its public service remit on grounds of fairness and decency, it could face fines "amounting to three per cent of its total turnover" – about €2.5 million.