Rome, Sept 1: Italian police arrested a businessman Thursday on charges of extorting money from Premier Silvio Berlusconi in return for cooperating in a probe over recruiting prostitutes to attend wild parties at Berlusconi's home.
Giampaolo Tarantini and his wife Angela Devenuto were picked up in Rome on Thursday morning, police in Naples said. Berlusconi is not under investigation.
Tarantini has admitted he paid a high-end prostitute, Patrizia D'Addario, and other women to attend parties at Berlusconi's residences, but insists the premier didn't know. He is currently under investigation in Bari for allegedly aiding and abetting prostitution.
Naples Prosecutor Francesco Greco said Tarantini had forced Berlusconi to pay his family legal and housing costs in exchange for Tarantino's cooperation in the Bari prostitution investigation.
Specifically, Greco alleges that Berlusconi's payment was designed to ensure that Tarantino entered a plea bargain in the Bari case rather than letting it go to trial. Such a move would limit the publication of possibly embarassing telephone intercepts concerning the women who went to Berlusconi's parties.
Greco didn't specify the amount paid, but the Panorama news magazine, which broke news of the investigation last week, said Berlusconi paid Tarantino ¤500,000 ($722,000) and subsequent monthly payments.
Berlusconi is not under investigation and is considered the victim in the case, a Naples policewoman said. The premier has said he didn't feel victimized by Tarantini and says he was just helping a needy family.
"I helped someone and a family with children who found themselves and continue to find themselves in very serious financial difficulty," Berlusconi was quoted as saying by Panorama. "I didn't do anything illegal, I limited myself to helping a desperate man without asking for anything in exchange. That's how I'm made and nothing will change that."
Berlusconi himself is on trial in Milan for allegedly paying a 17-year-old for sex at some of his parties. He and the woman deny the allegations. AP