She is the young woman at the origin of the scandal that has hit Silvio Berlusconi like no other.
Last November Karima El Mahroug, otherwise known as “Ruby the heart stealer”, celebrated her 18th birthday.
The date is significant, for the Italian prime minister is accused of having sex with her when she was a minor. The liaison is said to have brought the young woman of Moroccan origin 187,000 euros, a sum with which she apparently envisaged opening a beauty salon.
According to Milan prosecutors, the encounters between Berlusconi and Ruby took place at the Villa San Martino, the 74-year-old’s residence in a suburb of the city.
13 times between February and May last year, the young woman – still underage – reportedly attended “bunga bunga” parties where, it is alleged, girls took part in striptease acts and were fondled, before being chosen by Berlusconi for more intimate relations.
But, say prosecutors, the prime minister committed another offence, one which carries a prison sentence of up to 12 years.
They accuse Berlusconi of abuse of power by picking up the phone to get Ruby released, after she had been arrested last May for alleged theft.
The prime minister reportedly assured officers at the police station that they held the niece of Hosni Mubarak, then still president of Egypt.
Also implicated is Berlusconi’s alleged ‘madam’. Nicole Minetti is a British-Italian dancer turned dental hygienist who treated the prime minister’s teeth and was thrust into politics as a regional councillor. She is suspected of helping to arrange his alleged encounters.
In January, as the affair began to threaten seriously Berlusconi’s political survival, it looked like the pressure was taking its toll.
He went on TV to deny everything.
“There hasn’t been any abuse of power, no involvement in prostitution at all, least of all in underage prostitution. There has been nothing I should be ashamed of,” he exclaimed.
But on Tuesday came further revelations. Corriere della Sera published wiretap transcripts said to be of a phone conversation between Berlusconi and Minetti last August. The prime minister allegedly said what was important was that various people had testified that Ruby had lied to them about her age.
This week a tax fraud hearing began, linked to one of Berlusconi’s media offshoots. But compared to the complex claims about offshore companies and illegal slush funds, the simpler sleaze surrounding Rubygate is what is grabbing the headlines.