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Media hunt for Berlusconi's girlfriend

Ex models, party members touted as possible companions

18 January, 17:23
Media hunt for Berlusconi's girlfriend (ANSA) - Rome, January 18 - Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's assertion that he has a steady girlfriend as he sought to fend off allegations he paid to have sex with an underage belly dancer has sparked off a media hunt for the mystery woman.

Berlusconi said at the weekend his companion would never allow him to frequent prostitutes, after prosecutors said they were investigating suspicions he paid for sex with several young women, including a Moroccan called Ruby when she was 17.

The premier, whose second wife Veronica Lario filed for divorce in 2009, said he did not want to name his girlfriend because of the media attention this would expose her to.

Speculation that the girlfriend is Darina Pavlova, a Bulgarian former model and the widow of Iliya Pavlov, a billionaire businessman murdered in Sofia in 2003, was boosted by claims made by a Rome hairdresser Tuesday.

VIP hairdresser Massimo Topo told the Italian media his client and friend Pavlova had been with Berlusconi for about three years and was ''very much in love''. Among the other women touted as possible sweethearts is Nicole Minetti, Berlusconi's former dental hygienist and a Lombardy regional councillor for his People of Freedom (PdL) party who is under investigation for procuring prostitutes as part of the Ruby probe.

Another is a 26-year-old nurse and former Miss Turin beauty queen Roberta Bonasia.

Indeed, Minetti is transcribed as telling a friend in a telephone wiretap leaked to the media that Berlusconi had ''lost his head'' for Bonasia and was spending a lot of time with her.

The name of Federica Gagliardi, a 28-year-old who is part of the staff of the PdL's governor for Lazio and accompanied the premier on an official mission abroad in June last year, has featured in the guessing game too.

Francesca Pascale, a 25-year-old PdL councillor for the province of Naples, refused to deny rumours she was the girlfriend in an interview in Tuesday's Corriere della Sera, adding that she ''adored'' Berlusconi.

Italian bookmakers are giving shortest odds on the likelihood that the companion is an MP, ahead of the hypothesis of a model or showgirl, while the daughter of a foreign head of state is pitched as a long shot.

photo: Nicole Minetti.