, ROME, Sept 10 – Silvio Berlusconi declared on Thursday that he was "by far the best" Italian prime minister of the last 150 years after a journalist asked him if he should resign over a string of scandals.
Berlusconi also insisted again that he has never paid for sex after Italian newspapers published excerpts from prosecutors’ interrogations of a businessman who said he had brought prostitutes to parties hosted by the premier.
"I think I am by far the president of the council in 150 years of Italian history," Berlusconi said during a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Sardinia.
By his own calculations, Berlusconi has been in power for 2,500 days, surpassing Alcide De Gasperi, a Christian-Democrat who governed Italy between 1945-1953.
He was asked whether he should resign by a journalist from Spanish daily El Pais, which published in June pictures of topless women and a naked man sunbathing in Berlusconi’s villa on the island of Sardinia.
New sex allegations surfaced on Wednesday as Corriere della Sera and La Stampa newspapers published statements made by Giancarlo Tarantini, a business man who has been charged with corruption in Bari.
Tarantini told prosecutors that he had brought around 30 women ready to give sexual favours, "if the need arose," at 18 parties at Berlusconi’s homes in Rome and Sardinia between September 2008 and January 2009.
Tarantini said he brought the women to get close to the premier but that he never told Berlusconi that they were paid for their services.
"I have never paid one lira, one euro for sexual favours," Berlusconi said Thursday.
The 72-year-old billionaire has pointed to his government’s accomplishments as he seeks to prevent the allegations from hurting his conservative majority and his relations with the Roman Catholic church.
The media mogul and AC Milan football club owner has been plagued by scandals since his wife announced in May that she would divorce him after he attended a young model’s 18th birthday.
The prime minister and the girl have vehemently denied that they had a sexual relationship.
Berlusconi has said he would sue El Pais over the publications of the photos at his Sardinia villa, but the newspaper said Thursday that his lawyers have not followed up on the threat.