Embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Tuesday he has never paid a woman for sex, the subject of an embarrassing investigation under way in southern Italy.
"I have never paid a woman," Berlusconi said in an interview to appear Wednesday. "I have never seen the satisfaction that there could be in it without the pleasure of conquest," he told the celebrity weekly Chi.
The 72-year-old billionaire is embroiled in a host of scandals from his links to an aspiring teen model to a messy divorce.
A call girl, Patrizia D'Addario, told the leading daily Corriere della Sera last week that she had gone twice to Berlusconi's Rome residence on the promise of earning 2,000 euros (2,800 dollars) for each visit.
Investigators in Bari have interviewed D'Addario and three other young women who claim to have been paid to take part in a party at one of Berlusconi's homes, Italian media have reported.
"Someone gave a very precise and extremely well paid mission to this Ms D'Addario," Berlusconi charges in the interview, according to excerpts carried by the ANSA news agency.
Asked whether he was aware that D'Addario worked as an elite escort, he replied: "If I suspected someone of such a thing, I would keep her thousands of kilometres away."
It was Berlusconi's first specific remarks on the probe, having earlier dismissed the scandal as "rubbish."
D'Addario denied being party to a "well paid mission," in other words that she was paid to make last week's claims. "I deny that this was the case."
"If Mr Berlusconi has the slightest proof backing his claims he must present them to legal authorities," she told ANSA news agency.
"If this is not the case, he should not be making such claims," she added.
Early this month, Italian authorities seized hundreds of photos which were taken at Berlusconi's Sardinian villa.
Some of the pictures were published in a Spanish paper and showed Berlusconi in his garden alongside topless women and a totally naked man.
Berlusconi is also under investigation for allegedly misusing his official plane to fly personal guests, including a flamenco dancer and a well-known singer, to his villa.