What went on at Silvio Berlusconi's 'bunga bunga' parties?

What went on at Silvio Berlusconi's 'bunga bunga' parties?
Silvio Berlusconi: Former Italian prime minister dies aged 86

Silvio Berlusconi has died at the age of 86, leaving a lasting legacy of scandal in his wake.

Italy’s four-time prime minister, who once advised David Cameron to take a mistress and complimented Barack Obama on his “tan”, passed away at hospital in Milan following a battle with leukaemia.

The eternal eyebrow-raiser is best known internationally for his populist appeal – paving the way for the likes of Donald Trump – and his skirmishes with the law.

As recently as February this year, some 12 years after he last left office, Berlusconi was defending himself against allegations tied to notorious “bunga bunga” parties held at his villa in Arcore.

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But what went on at these infamous soirées? Here, indy100 takes a look at the rumours that swirled around the alleged sexual gatherings.

Where did the name ‘bunga bunga’ come from?

Let’s start with that… interesting moniker.

According to attendees at the parties, Berlusconi boasted of having picked up the phrase “bunga bunga” from the now-late Lybian dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It is understood to refer to an after-dinner sex game.

According to nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug – who went by the stage name "Ruby the Heart Stealer" and became a subject of global notoriety – “bunga bungas” were lap-dancing competitions which saw the winner awarded some private time with Berlusconi.

What else have guests and performers said about the parties?

Bunga bunga parties were alleged to have followed a consistent format: beginning with a dinner of red, white and green foods (a nod to Italy’s tricolour flag) and ending with Berlusconi choosing “one or more women with whom he spent the night in an intimate relationship”, The Mirrorreports.

During a trial back in 2013, a close associate of Berlusconi admitted that parties at the then-Italian-PM’s palatial residence were a showcase of “excess, abuse of power and degradation”.

Prosecutors released photos taken at some of the raucous bashes back in 2011, during an investigation into claims Berlusconi had hired a series of prostitutes for the events.

They showed a number of female guests dressed in skimpy outfits, embracing one another suggestively.

A trove of photos was discovered on laptops and cameras seized by prosecutors as part of their investigations into Berlusconi

In 2013, during a separate investigation into whether Berlusconi had bribed witnesses to lie about the parties, El Mahroug claimed showgirls at the dinners dressed up as nuns, policewomen and high-profile figures.

“Ruby the Heart Stealer” told the court that a glamour model called Marysthell Polanco dressed up as President Obama and Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho.

El Mahroug said she received envelopes containing thousands of euros in cash from the then-prime minister and spent the night at the villa on one occasion, after which she and several other women who had slept there shared breakfast with him.

However, she denied ever having sexual relations with Berlusconi.

What did Berlusconi say about the parties?

The politician insisted that the evenings were actually “elegant dinners” and that the only reason he sometimes gave money to his female guests was that he was “generous” and wanted to help them.

He repeatedly denied wrongdoing and insisted that he was simply the victim of a witch hunt waged by prosecutors with a political endeavour.

Was he ever convicted over the bunga bunga scandals?

Berlusconi was accused of abuse of office and paying for sex in 2010 with a minor over his relationship with El Mahroug, who was 17 at the time. Sexual activity with a prostitute under the age of 18 is illegal in Italy.

He was initially found guilty in 2013 and sentenced to seven years in jail but the verdict was overturned a year later by an appeals court which ruled there was no proof he had known she was underage at the time of their encounter. Italy's top court confirmed his acquittal in 2015.

The disgraced PM was put in the dock again in Rome, Siena and Milan after being accused of bribing witnesses at the bunga bunga parties to lie in the original El Mahroug trial.

He was subsequently cleared in each city, most recently in Milan in February 2023.

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