-- An Italian sex scandal that spawned nationwide demonstrations over the premier's alleged abuse of power and paying an underage girl for sex began at a dinner party in Milan with a Moroccan-born dancer nicknamed "Ruby Heartbreaker."
The dancer, Karima El Mahrough, was 17 years old at the time of the alleged sexual encounter with Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, according to prosecutors in Milan.
The leggy performer, who has since appeared in scantily clad photographs across the country, told the Italian news channel Sky TG24 that she had lied about her age before meeting Berlusconi for a dinner party at his private residence near Milan.
"He knew that I was 24 years old because I told everyone that I was 24 years old," she said. "I didn't want people to know that I was a minor."
It was during that first encounter on Valentine's Day in 2010 that El Mahrough said she received 7,000 euros (about $9,300) after a friend informed Berlusconi that she needed help.
Both have denied allegations of having sex.
"Absolutely no," El Mahrough said. "I just arrived in Milan, and it was a little difficult living there," she said, claiming that Berlusconi gave her the money to help support herself financially.
The friend "spoke with (Berlusconi) and explained my situation, my story, my family situation," she said. "And he helped me."
But an investigation into their relationship burgeoned after the prime minister urged police to release her when she was arrested on theft charges.
El Mahrough said that after the arrest, she was visited by dancer Michelle Rivera and regional lawmaker Nicole Minetti, whom prosecutors have tried to link to the allegations against the prime minister.
El Mahrough said Minetti then called Berlusconi "to explain how things went," handing her the phone "so that I could thank him."
In their conversation, El Mahrough described the premier as "bitter" because "he had allowed someone to enter his house trustingly."
"I didn't know about this famous call of the premier to the police," El Mahrough told Sky TG24. "I learned it from the newspapers."
Investigators say they later questioned the dancer's former roommate, who claimed El Mahrough had confided in her, describing the details of her sexual relationship with the Italian premier.
Berlusconi, 74, denied allegations surrounding his relationship with El Mahrough as well as his alleged abuses of power, arguing that his phone call to police was a case of mistaken identity.
His party has argued that Berlusconi believed El Mahrough was a relative of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and that he called the police station on her behalf to avoid a possible diplomatic crisis with Egypt.
But little is known about the dancer whose involvement in the scandal helped catalyze demonstrations against Italy's premier and his penchant for dinner parties attended by "pretty girls," according to local media reports and accounts by lawmaker Minetti.
El Mahrough reportedly said on the Italian talk show "Kalispera" -- owned by Berlusconi -- that she was a victim of child abuse and became a runaway before landing a job dancing at nightclubs.
The scandal has made El Mahrough, now 18, a national figure.
Meanwhile, Berlusconi has been ordered to stand trial in April, when he will face a three-judge panel. All of them are women.