Premier Silvio Berlusconi's media empire on Friday reported that prosecutors are investigating whether Berlusconi's political enemies tried to discredit him by using a high-class prostitute to get close to the premier.
Unidentified judicial sources in Bari cited by the Italian news agency ANSA, however, denied that any such investigation was under way. An official at the prosecutors' office declined to comment Friday to the AP.
The report came in Friday's Panorama newsweekly, which is owned by Berlusconi's Mondadori publishing house. The story also appeared on the front page of Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi's brother, alongside a story of how Berlusconi was being targeted in what it called a climate of "hate" in Italy.
According to the magazine, prosecutors are investigating the prostitute, Patrizia D'Addario as well as a dozen politicians, magistrates and journalists. The hypothesis is that D'Addario was "'selected to carry out a mission to compromise the reputation of the premier, putting him in a difficult spot politically," Panorama said.
The report didn't say who was behind the plot, but said it was "logical" to think it was Berlusconi's political opponents.
D'Addario made headlines last year when she claimed she had spent the night with the premier and had tape recorded their encounter. Her revelations came after Berlusconi's wife, Veronica Lario, announced she was divorcing him, citing his fondness for young women.
After Lario's announcement, several young women went public with stories that they had been paid to attend parties at Berlusconi's homes in Rome and Sardinia. D'Addario said she had been paid by a Bari businessman, Giampaolo Tarantini, to attend.
Tarantini has admitted paying D'Addario and other women travel expenses to come to the parties so he could show off to Berlusconi in hopes of improving his business dealings.
Tarantini has been placed under house arrest as part of a drug probe unrelated to the premier.
The conservative Italian leader has said he has never paid anyone for sex and was the victim of someone seeking to create a scandal. Prosecutors said months ago that Berlusconi was not under investigation and doesn't figure into the Tarantini probe.
D'Addario has long maintained she decided to go public with her story because Berlusconi had allegedly reneged on a promise to help her with a real estate problem. She says tape recorded the premier during their night together because she does so with all of her clients to protect herself.
The Panorama report, however, said D'Addario was introduced to Tarantini specifically so that he would bring her to the premier with the aim of embarrassing him politically. It did not cite sources for the claim.
ANSA, citing judicial sources, said there was no such investigation under way and that no magistrates or journalists were believed to have taken part in D'Addario's purported "mission."
Panorama, however, dismissed the ANSA report, saying in a statement it stood by its original story "in its entirety."