The "bunga bunga" parties that took place at the home of Silvio Berlusconi were just "burlesque contests", according to the former Italian prime minister.

In a rare appearance at his trial in Milan, in which he is accused of paying for sex with Moroccan-born night-club dancer Karima el-Mahroug, dubbed Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was just 17, the media magnate said his wild parties were "elegant dinners" punctuated by an atmosphere of "joy, serenity and conviviality".

His female guests would then hold "burlesque contests" and practiced dancing with him in a disco on the ground floor of his villa near Milan.

"Women are exhibitionist by nature," he said.

The billionaire attempted to shield himself from allegations that he paid three women due to testify at the trial to influence their testimony.

"I pay for these girls' upkeep because their lives have been ruined by this trial," he said. "Their only fault was accepting a dinner invitation from me."

Berlusconi's remarks contradict those of Imane Fadil, a model also of Moroccan origin, who confirmed that the media tycoon paid for sex with the showgirls. She also revealed some of the goings-on at the infamous parties.

"At one dinner I saw Nicole Minetti and Barbara Fagioli [two Italian showgirls] dressed in black tunics. They were wearing white headcaps and a crucifix. It was like something out of Sister Act and then they stripped off," the Daily Mail reported her as saying.

"I had been standing at the bar [in the villa] having a drink. It was February 2010 and Fagioli had been dancing in the bunga bunga room. Then she disappeared and came back with Minetti. I was completely unprepared for their double act. They took off the nuns' habits and were left just in their underwear.

"Another evening I remember some of the girls were wearing AC Milan shirts. One girl, Iris Berardi [another showgirl], was dressed as Ronaldinho, other girls had masks of the players. She danced until she was left just wearing a G-string."

Prosecutors claim Berlusconi had sex with Mahroug 13 times and abused his power to get her out of jail. She denied having sex with the 75-year-old magnate, though she admitted having told him that she was 24, not 17, her actual age at the time.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Berlusconi paid more than £127,000 to showgirls Minetti and sisters Imma and Eleonora De Vivo, another two showgirls who attended his parties.

Minetti, 28, whose mother is British, is on trial on charges of procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi, which she denies.

Berlusconi resigned as prime minister last November over Italy's debt crisis.