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Berlusconi denies sex scandal in new book

New book questions Silvio Berlusconi over claims he had affairs.
New book questions Silvio Berlusconi over claims he had affairs.
  • New book puts Berlusconi on the spot over sex allegations
  • Italian prime minister denies having sex with 18-year-old
  • Says his wife should not have believed media allegations

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has caused a buzz all over Italy this week with the release of a new book that simply asks the colorful premier about some equally colorful exploits.

Excerpts from "Donne di Cuori" ("Queens of Hearts"), written by Italian journalist Bruno Vespa, have appeared in Italian papers in recent days, making headlines with Berlusconi's take on a sex scandal that has led his wife to seek a divorce.

Vespa is well known in Italy as the host of the most popular Italian TV talk show, "Porta a Porta," on which Berlusconi often appears. It was on that show that Berlusconi first talked about his alleged affair with an 18-year-old and how it had affected his marriage.

"I've never had a relationship with her," Berlusconi says of the teenage Neapolitan model, Noemi Letizia. "It is only slander."

The billionaire media mogul-turned politician has said the Italian media is the reason his second wife and mother of three of his five children, Veronica Lario, asked him for a divorce, saying Lario erred by believing what was in the Italian papers.

Lario cited Berlusconi's presence at the 18-year-old's birthday party, reported in the Italian press earlier this year, as the reason for seeking a divorce.

Berlusconi, Italy's longest-serving prime minister, told CNN last month that his friendship with the young woman and her family were "relationships which have a right to privacy."

Lario also accused Berlusconi of choosing starlets and showgirls as European parliament candidates and of consorting with young women.

About those female parliamentary candidates, Berlusconi says in the book he chose "only women with a career profile that was of morally, intellectually, and culturally high standards."

There have also been widely reported allegations that Berlusconi went to parties with escorts.

The book's author interviewed Gianpaolo Tarantini, the businessman accused of hiring those escorts. He said the premier never knew who the girls really were.

"That those girls were escorts, Silvio Berlusconi didn't know," Tarantini says in the book. "The president (Berlusconi) was in the dark about everything. It was the farthest thing in his mind to think that I could pay the girls."

The news may not be new, and lots has been reported before. But that it's still generating headlines seems to show that many Italians simply can't get enough of Berlusconi.

The scandals have done little damage to Berlusconi's political standing in Italy. Polls have shown his popularity has dipped only slightly, mostly among women, since the scandals broke in the spring.

"When I go around, it's embarrassing to see the affection showered upon me," Berlusconi told CNN last month. "I know that people can change their opinions ... but I must say that I just note the fact that I am close to the heart of many Italians and they show this to me very often."

Even his critics acknowledge his popularity among Italians.

Giulio Anselmi, veteran Italian journalist and chairman of the Italian news agency ANSA, says Berlusconi is popular because he's a populist. He describes him as "a man who pulls the most elementary strings of the public opinion; a public opinion which, in Italy in these times, prefers simple paths."

Berlusconi, who controls almost half of Italy's television stations, was elected in 2008 to his third term. The next Italian election, barring an early vote, is scheduled for 2013. His conservative coalition has control of both the Italian Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

"I am in extremely good health, as the facts prove," Berlusconi says in the book. "My health conditions -- besides a tiresome stiff neck I've almost recovered from and the scarlet fever I had at the end of October -- are those that have allowed me to complete 16 months of very heavy commitments."

CNN's Hada Messia contributed to this report.