Ruby the heart
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was cleared of having sex with underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug, otherwise known as Ruby RubacuoriGetty

Italian authorities have accused Silvio Berlusconi of paying more than €10m (£7m) to buy the silence of 21 girls who testified in the so-called "Bunga Bunga" trial.

The former prime minister was cleared of having sex with an underage prostitute and abusing power to cover up the scandal at the end of a lengthy trial in March 2015. Milan prosecutors now say the trial was distorted by lavish bribes the defendant paid to numerous witnesses.

Detectives say at least €7m was paid to Karima el-Mahroug, aka Ruby Rubacuori ("Ruby Heartbreaker)" to deny in court she had sexual intercourse with the media tycoon when she was 17.

The sum included cash (at least €800,000) and other benefits, such as funding investments she made in Mexico and Dubai, investigating prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano said.

An additional €3m was also allegedly distributed among 20 girls who attended Berlusconi's sex parties at his Arcore villa to give misleading evidence in the case. Some famously described the orgies as "elegant dinners".

The alleged kickbacks, some made on a monthly basis, were paid over a four-year period ending this week, prosecutors said, as they announced the end of their probe.

Judges will now decide whether to open a new trial against the 78 year old on charges of corruption. The allegedly bribed witnesses and an additional 13 people are also facing charges.

After news of the investigation first came out, Berlusconi's legal team claimed he had offered the money out of generosity to compensate the girls for the distress and stigma brought to them by the trial.