Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is under investigation for extortion and underage prostitution involving a teen nightclub dancer who attended parties at his private residence, according to sources close to the probe.
The 74-year-old playboy politician is suspected of trying to hide evidence of alleged trysts with a Moroccan nicknamed Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby the Heartstealer).
Authorities are probing whether the scandal-prone leader abused his power when he intervened to have the exotic dancer, 17 at the time, released from jail last May after she was held over theft allegations.
The investigation also involves an underage prostitution allegation that he had sex with Ruby sometime between February and May last year, according to Italian media outlets.
Berlusconi, who has a history of dating younger women, has denied the charges.
The case became public months ago when it surfaced that Berlusconi helped secure Ruby's release from prison. At the time he said he was simply trying to help someone in need.
Last November, Ruby told Italy's La Repubblica newspaper that she only paid one visit to the billionaire prime minister in February 2010, alongside nine other women. She claimed that Berlusconi showered her with gifts, including a diamond necklace, an Audi R8 sports car and $9,700 in cash.
She insisted there "was no sex" and that Berlusconi promised Ruby, an illegal immigrant, that he'd help her get a green card.
"When I said I was 17, he said that in the past he'd had problems with minors. He said he didn't want it to happen again," she told the newspaper. "Then we said goodbye, he was polite but firm. I was upset, as he was the first man in my life who had not wanted to take me to bed. He was like a father, I swear."
The prime minister has been ensnared in corruption charges and alleged encounters with young women since his re-election in 2008. His wife, Veronica Lario, 53, announced she was divorcing him after it emerged that he attended an underwear model's 18th birthday bash.
Daniele Capezzone, a spokesman for Berlusconi's party, said the latest legal investigation would be unsuccessful.
"If someone ... still believes that Silvio Berlusconi can be defeated through judicial means, once again they will be sorely disappointed," he said.