A businessman with ties to Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been freed after an Italian court ruled that Berlusconi tried to persuade him to lie to prosecutors about bringing prostitutes in to wild parties at the premier's villas, news reports said Tuesday.
The ANSA news agency ran excerpts of a decision by a Naples tribunal ordering businessman Giampaolo Tarantini freed from jail. Tarantini was arrested Sept. 1 on accusations he extorted hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars) from Berlusconi in exchange for his cooperation in the prostitution investigation.
According to ANSA, the Naples court, which rules on defendants' requests to be released from jail, said it was actually Berlusconi who tried to persuade Tarantini to lie to prosecutors to protect him, and paid Tarantini handsomely for doing so. The premier hasn't been charged or placed under investigation in the case, and prosecutors previously had formally described him as a victim of Tarantini's alleged extortion scheme.
The premier is, however, on trial in a separate case in Milan on charges he paid a 17-year-old Moroccan girl who frequented his "bunga bunga" parties for sex. Both Berlusconi, who turns 75 this week, and the woman deny the charges.
Tarantini has admitted paying women to attend Berlusconi's parties to try to curry favor with the premier and improve his business interests. But he has maintained that Berlusconi didn't know.
But the Naples court ruling, according to the news reports, said Berlusconi was fully aware the women were escorts.
Prostitution isn't a crime in Italy but profiting off prostitution is. The latter is the basis for a probe in the southern Italian city of Bari in which Tarantini is under investigation for allegedly aiding and abetting prostitution.
In ordering the Sept. 1 arrest of Tarantini, prosecutors alleged he extorted money from Berlusconi in exchange for accepting a plea bargain in the Bari case, thus limiting the amount of embarrassing telephone wiretaps that would be deposited at the court _ and therefore publishable.
The wiretaps, which eventually were splashed across Italian newspapers when the Bari probe wrapped up, featured Berlusconi boasting after one party he "only did eight of them" and that he was only premier in his "spare time."
Berlusconi has admitted he paid Tarantini, but says he did so to help a family in dire financial need.
The premier has denied ever paying for sex. He has boasted of his weakness for young, beautiful women, an inclination cited by his second wife, who is divorcing from him.
Berlusconi has said all the court cases against him, including the teen sex case and several corruption cases brought against him over dealings in his business empire, are part of a plot by prosecutors who he says want to topple him from power.