ROME -- Italian judges are recommending that former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi be investigated in connection with accusations he bribed young female witnesses in a trial related to his notorious "bunga bunga" parties.
The new legal challenge came to light Friday, two days after the three-time prime minister was expelled from the Italian Parliament for six years following a tax fraud conviction.
Berlusconi is accused of paying 2,500 euros ($3,400) apiece each month to young models and TV showgirls to tone down their accounts of the sexually charged nature of his dinner parties.
Three Berlusconi associates were convicted earlier this year of pimping for him. Berlusconi wasn't a defendant in that trial, but he is appealing a seven-year sentence he received in June for paying for sex with Karima El Mahroug, a nightclub dancer who was 17 when she attended the parties.
In a document released on Friday explaining the pimping conviction, the judges detailed the bribery accusations and said they had forwarded them to prosecutors, who are now expected to open an investigation.
The judges said that after the homes of Berlusconi’s female party guests were searched during the prostitution probe, he called about a dozen of them to his Milan mansion in January 2011 for a conference and initiated their monthly payments.
In court, the judges said, the women gave “perfectly overlapping” evidence of “elegant” soirees, rather than the striptease sessions described by some other guests.
The judges said they noticed the female witnesses using the same phrases in their statements, and that when they were asked the exact meaning of words they had used, some women were unable to respond, suggesting they had been coached.
Berlusconi, 77, has acknowledged paying his female guests regular sums but has claimed it was compensation for their stalled show-business careers, which suffered from the poor publicity stemming from the "bunga bunga" trial.
Niccolo Ghedini, a lawyer representing Berlusconi, said the witness-tampering allegations were “totally disconnected from reality and from factual findings.”
Kington is a special correspondent.