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Could Ruby cause Berlusconi’s undoing?

Italy's former premier Silvio Berlusconi may be ruing the day he met "Ruby the Heart Stealer" - the young starlet at the heart of a sex trial climaxing in Milan on Monday.

Could Ruby cause Berlusconi's undoing?
Karima El-Mahroug, known as "Ruby" speaks to journalists in front of Milan's courthouse on April 4th 2013. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace AFP

The pole dancer allegedly attended raunchy parties thrown by the 76-year-old former premier minister in his private residence in Milan in 2010, where she has claimed he showered her with money and gifts, when she was just 17.

As Italian magistrates launched a probe into the premier's private life in 2011, Ruby became the pin-up girl for the Italian media's sensational coverage of rumoured orgies hosted by Berlusconi, with prostitutes and showgirls.

Ruby – whose real name is Karima El Mahroug – was born on November 1st, 1992, and moved with her family from Morocco to a small town in Sicily in 2003.

She lived with her hawker father, housewife mother and three younger siblings before running away from home at 14.

Spotted by one of Berlusconi's cronies at a beauty contest in Sicily, Ruby was called to entertain the then prime minister by Nicole Minetti, a trusted aide and regional representative for his party who is now on trial on pimping charges.

It was Minetti who then helped get Ruby out of prison after she was arrested for alleged theft in May 2010, when she was accused of stealing a bracelet worth 3,000 euros ($3,941).

Berlusconi rang the police station and told officials to release her, claiming she was the niece of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and asking police to hand her over to Minetti, ostensibly to prevent diplomatic fallout.

The indignant three-time premier later protested he had no idea that Ruby was not Mubarak's niece, claiming the story was part of a series of lies that the teenager had told him, including fibbing about her age.

The dark-haired, long-lashed girl became the star of the scandal, pouting in paparazzi photographs and later appearing on several television channels protesting her innocence and telling the harrowing story of her troubled past.

Grilled by investigators, she said she met Berlusconi at one of his "bunga-bunga" parties – where she described naked women who surround the aged premier, vying with each other to arouse him – but denied taking part.

She later changed her story, however, telling a court this year that she had previously lied about the raunchy parties, insisting "the majority of the things I said were not true" – including how much money he gave her.

She also admitted lying about having sex for money with Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, saying she had got the idea from a billboard picture of him in his underwear.

"If I didn't prostitute myself with Ronaldo, who is good-looking, you can forget about Berlusconi," she said.

In a protest staged outside a Milan court house in April, she claimed she was the victim of "psychological warfare".

"The only 'proof' provided in the trial that I was prostituting myself were some photographs that the head of the investigators showed in court, after having downloaded them from my Facebook profile. A ridiculous thing," she said.

"At the time I was just 17 and I did not take into account what prosecutors and the press might make of them," she added.

While initially hogging the limelight with her revealing dresses and push-up bras, the young Moroccan has always spoken affectionately of Berlusconi, whom she has described as a charitable but lonely man, forced to buy women's affection.

After confessing to journalists she wanted to change her ways, Ruby married a 43-year-old nightclub manager with whom she had a baby girl, and largely disappeared from public view.

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ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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