Would Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rather be governing in 19th century England? Consider: When British opposition leader Benjamin Disraeli was informed by his staff that Prime Minister Lord Palmerston had a mistress, he warned them against publicizing the affair: "Palmerston is now 70. If he could provide evidence of his potency in his electoral address, he'd sweep the country." Berlusconi is 74, and yet his opponents keep thinking they sense blood in his dalliances.
The latest Berlusconi scandal involves a Moroccan dancer (whose stage name is "Ruby the Heart-Stealer"), who the prime minister is accused of sleeping with (when she was 17), and of using his powers to get her out of trouble with the police (by telling them she was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's granddaughter).
While the age of consent in Italy is 14, and prostitution there is not illegal, prosecutors are trying to pin on Mr. Berlusconi the crime of exploiting minors – which could land him three years in prison. The Prime Minister doesn't deny his "friendship" with the dancer, or trying to help her out of trouble (he said he "always helped people in need"), but denies having sex with her – a claim that she echoes. (His aides also say that he thought she was 23.)
"Rubygate," as the affair is being called, follows a whole series of stories through the years involving young girls and Mr. Berlusconi, that – the way his opponents tell it – make the prime minister's home sound like an Italian version of Hugh Heffner's U.S. Playboy Mansion.