Moroccan heartbreaker Karima el-Mahroug (aka Ruby) and Austrian businessman Richard Lugner pose at the Vienna opera ball.
The TV cameras were told to ignore her, and Austria's rich and powerful sought to avoid her. But amid all the bling on display at the Vienna Opera Ball, most eyes were still on one particular jewel – Ruby.
With Ruby, a.k.a. Karima el-Mahroug, at the center of the scandal plaguing Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, her scheduled appearance at Austria's ball of balls on Thursday was a sensation most of the wealthy and influential guests present would have been happy to do without.State TV was initially ordered to avoid covering her.
But with the Berlusconi scandal big news, she was hard to keep out of sight – let alone out of mind.Ruby's comments on the eve of the ball added to Vienna high society's bad case of nerves. (Photo: Lugner with Ruby) "I can't waltz," she told reporters before pausing for effect, and adding with a smile: "I can only belly dance."
Famous political sex scandals
For centuries, Vienna's high society has waltzed blissfully through wars, recessions and firebomb-throwing anarchists opposed to the moneyed decadence they think such events represent.
But it has never had to deal with an 18-year-old dancer said to have been paid by Berlusconi for sex while she was still underage – and the ripples caused by her presence relegated Libya's revolution and other top news events to the back pages of Austria's newspapers.
Vienna's top priest was drawn into the fray, citing scripture in favor of her attendance. The ball's organizer threatened to ban Richard Lugner, the quirky 78-year old millionaire who invited her and former "Dallas" star Larry Hagman.
To underestimate the uproar is to ignore the place that the Vienna Opera Ball holds in the hearts of Austrians.It is THE event of the annual ball season that stretches from autumn into late winter.
Some of Lugner's past guests among a panoply of Hollywood actresses and other lookers had already raised carefully plucked opera ball eyebrows. (Photo: Opera singer Ana Netrebko)
He hosted porn star Dolly Buster in 1999 and burlesque artist Dita von Teese three years ago.Berlusconi, Vatican officials meet amid scandalBut his pick of Ruby – after actress Bo Derek backed out – was simply too much for some in Vienna, where parents of the moneyed class still send their kids to manners courses.
Berlusconi was indicted last month on charges he paid for sex with Ruby, when she was under age, then used his influence to cover it up. Both have denied having a sexual relationship.
Lugner – who is reported to have paid 40,000 euros ($55,500) for her appearance – doesn't understand the fuss. "If Berlusconi liked her, she's good enough for the Opera Ball," he told News.
But for ball organizer Desiree Treichl-Stuerkh, she is a "prostitute involved in ongoing legal proceedings against Berlusconi" – and as such, persona non-grata. She said Lugner will not be given an opera box next year, adding her office had fielded calls from prominent ball goers asking how they can avoid being filmed or photographed with the Moroccan teen.
Treichl-Stuerkh's predecessor, Lotte Tobisch, said Ruby's presence "is wrecking the Opera Ball," while Wolfgang Lorenz, the state broadcaster's head of programming who issued the coverage ban, warned against "turning the festivities into a hookers' ball."Jumping into the fray, Toni Faber – a ball-goer and head priest at Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral – sided with Ruby.
Warning against hypocrisy he cited Jesus in newspaper interviews, declaring, "the tax collectors and the prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God ahead of you."
A survey of 850 people prepared by Austria's Humaninstitut had 70 percent of respondents saying that – now that Ruby is in Vienna – "we should welcome her with Austrian charm."
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