Silvio Berlusconi has claimed that the bunga bunga sex parties held at his mansions were an invention dreamed up by his political enemies and denied using a vulgar and sexist term to describe Angela Merkel.
In his first interview with the British media for years, he told the BBC's Newsnight that he had "never had political ambitions", a statement that will surprise the millions of Italians who voted him in as prime minister three times and have seen him on their television screens on a daily basis for 20 years.
He was taken aback when Jeremy Paxman asked him whether it was true that he had once called the German chancellor "an un----able lard a---".
It was widely reported in 2011 that the Italian billionaire had delivered the insult while talking to a newspaper editor, in a conversation that was wire-tapped as part of a blackmail investigation.
Mr Berlusconi, who is rarely lost for words, squinted, then put down his pen, stared at the table and glanced away.
Finally he put up his hands and said: "No, I have never had any problems with Angela Merkel. In 20 years of politics I have never insulted anyone and this accusation was made up by someone who wanted to turn Angela against me.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo / AP
"I was not an easy person to deal with and I was quite tough. I had the courage to oppose some of the proposals made by Merkel and [Nicolas] Sarkozy [on austerity policies in Europe]." The question may come to rank as vintage Paxman, on the eve of his departure from Newsnight. After 25 years as presenter of the current affairs programme, his last episode will air next month.
Mr Berlusconi's resignation as prime minister in Nov 2011 was in part brought about by the scandals over alleged sex parties he held at his mansion outside Milan, where it is claimed that aspiring models and showgirls performed strip teases. Last year, at the end of a two-year trial, Mr Berlusconi was found guilty of paying for sex with one of the women, a 17-year-old erotic dancer known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, whom prosecutors said was working as an underage prostitute.
Despite the conviction, Mr Berlusconi claimed the bunga bunga parties were fabricated by his adversaries.
"They manipulated reality. Luckily I am a strong person and I was able to take it," he said.
The former premier also told Paxman that he hoped he would "go down in history as a father of the country". The many accusations against him of corruption, bribery and tax fraud were entirely baseless, he insisted.
He also criticised Beppe Grillo, the maverick comedian and blogger whose anti-establishment Five Star Movement is expected to perform well at this month's European Parliament elections.
Mr Grillo was "a potential dictator" reminiscent of Pol Pot, Stalin and Robespierre, Mr Berlusconi said.
He added that a United States of Europe was a dream that would never come true, although had it done so he would have proposed Tony Blair as its first president "because he was really charismatic".