Prosecutors are investigating whether Premier Silvio Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage girl from Morocco and then abused his power in trying to cover up the encounters, officials said Friday.
Berlusconi dismissed the investigation as "absurd" and said prosecutors were jealous they weren't invited to his home for dinner, too; the teenager has said she dined at the premier's Milan estate but didn't have sex with him.
"At least my lawyers are happy," Berlusconi quipped in an audio message to his supporters late Friday. "They're sure that with me they'll never be out of work."
The investigation escalated a long history of accusations of sexual and financial impropriety aimed at the billionaire businessman, who has become Italy's longest-serving postwar leader despite corruption trials, international gaffes and political infighting.
Milan prosecutors said they are looking into whether the 74-year-old premier had sex with a 17-year-old nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby Heartbreak and then used the powers of his office inappropriately in trying to hide the encounter.
They issued a summons Friday for Berlusconi and his lawyers to appear for questioning. They also ordered Milan police to search the offices of people implicated in the case, including a showgirl-turned-politician who is close to the premier.
The Ruby case became public months ago when it emerged that Berlusconi had intervened to secure the release from police custody of the girl, who had been held for theft. Berlusconi had told the police she was a relative of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to media reports.
When the scandal broke, Berlusconi denied any improper behavior.