The businessman who allegedly supplied Silvio Berlusconi with women for his parties in Rome and Sardinia has been arrested on charges of blackmailing the Italian Premier.
Giampaolo Tarantini, 34, and his wife, Angela Devenuto, 32, were detained in Rome yesterday "for extorting money from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi", police said. Berlusconi is reported to have paid 500,000 to the Bari businessman, followed by smaller payments.
Berlusconi is not under investigation, and has denied being blackmailed by Tarantini. However, the arrest sees a return of the spotlight on the sex scandals that have dogged the Prime Minister.
Tarantini has said that he recruited about 30 women who were paid to attend 18 of Berlusconi's parties in Rome and Sardinia between September 2008 and January 2009. He has said the women were there to provide sexual favours.
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According to prosecutors quoted by Panorama, a magazine owned by the Berlusconi family, Tarantini demanded money in exchange for backing the Premier's assertion that he did not know the women were being paid. Francesco Greco, the Naples prosecutor, also alleges that Berlusconi's payments were designed to ensure that Tarantini entered a plea bargain to prevent a lengthy trial over charges Tarantini faced of procuring prostitutes.
This would limit the embarrassing details concerning the Premier's parties that would have been examined in court.
Patrizia D'Addario, one of the women recruited by Tarantini who saw Berlusconi on two occasions on the promise of earning 2000 a visit, recorded their pillow talk - which found its way into the newspapers. She also appeared on television to dismiss the Prime Minister's claims that he was unaware she was a prostitute when they slept
together at his Rome residence.
In June, Tarantini received a 26-month sentence for supplying cocaine. He is also under investigation as part of an inquiry into corruption surrounding the supply of equipment to Puglia hospitals.
Berlusconi has insisted that Tarantini did not extort money from him. "I helped someone and a family with children who found themselves ... in very serious financial difficulty," he said.
The Italian leader is on trial charged with paying for sex with an under-age girl, the Moroccan dancer Karima el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby.