Emaciated and severely jaundiced, stricken Imane Fadil fights for life in a Milan hospital.
The eyes of the former model who played a crucial role in exposing Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous Bunga Bunga parties are sunken and, beneath her oxygen mask, blood from her nose has congealed.
This is the harrowing sight – chillingly similar to the image of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko after he was poisoned in London in 2006 – that greeted her brother-in-law Cosimo Pasqualone in February.
The eyes of the former model who played a crucial role in exposing Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous Bunga Bunga parties are sunken and, beneath her oxygen mask, blood from her nose has congealed
Still haunted by the image of Imane, Cosimo last night said: ‘She was covered in purple bruises and her eyes and fingernails were yellow. I honestly couldn’t believe I was looking at the same person. It was as if all the life was being sucked out of her.’
He tried to get into Imane’s hospital room to sit by her bed, clasp her bruised hands and offer words of comfort, but was stopped by doctors who feared he might be contaminated by the toxic metals found in her blood.
As well as preparing to give evidence in a fresh bribery case against Berlusconi, Fadil (above) was writing a much anticipated book about her encounters with him, entitled I Met The Devil
Instead, he could only watch helplessly through the window of a neighbouring room and talk to her by phone. Two weeks later, Imane was dead.
Today, in their first full interview, Imane’s family accuse dark forces loyal to Berlusconi of silencing the 34-year-old to prevent more lurid details of his hedonistic parties and involvement with young women becoming public.
And, seven months after her death, having only recently gained possession of Imane’s body, they pour scorn on an investigation by the Italian authorities and demand a new independent post-mortem to establish the truth of how she died.
Their determination to secure justice has been fuelled by the return of Berlusconi to frontline politics and speculation that he may seek to become Italian Prime Minister for the fourth time.
In 2013 he was banned from public office and given a seven-year jail term following a sensational trial in which he was found guilty of paying underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug – known as Ruby the Heart Stealer – for sex and of seeking to cover it up.
Imane was the star witness for the prosecution.
The billionaire’s conviction was overturned in 2014 and the ban on holding public office was lifted in May.
Earlier this year, he was elected as an MEP for his Forza Italia party.
In mid-January, as he was announcing his candidacy, Imane cut a healthy and glamorous figure as she attended a court hearing in Milan.
As well as preparing to give evidence in a fresh bribery case against Berlusconi, she was writing a much anticipated book about her encounters with him, entitled I Met The Devil.
According to leaked transcripts from the book, Imane wrote of one party: ‘It was like a brothel. There were naked girls everywhere, even in the swimming pool. Some of them were under-age. It was clear they had no idea what they were doing. The girls were asked to perform sex acts in exchange for parts in his TV shows.’
Imane’s pathology and toxicology report – seen by The Mail on Sunday – details how she started to feel unwell after dining at a restaurant with her lawyer on January 13, the evening before she was pictured at the court.
This is the harrowing sight – chillingly similar to the image of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko after he was poisoned in London in 2006 – that greeted her brother-in-law Cosimo Pasqualone in February
Her flatmate John Pisano told police she had consumed a salad and a glass of wine and that her condition quickly deteriorated over the following days.
His evidence in the pathology and toxicology report states: ‘For two weeks, she didn’t sleep, sweated a lot, complained of strong muscle pain especially in her legs, had reflux, palpitations and general weakness.’
Imane was eventually taken to hospital on January 29 where, according to her family, a doctor told her that she had probably been poisoned.
Tests later showed unexplained and dangerously high levels of cadmium and antimony in her body.
Cadmium is used in rechargeable batteries and nuclear reactor rods but can damage the kidneys, skeletal and respiratory systems.
Berlusconi, 83, has denied ever meeting Imane and has always insisted that he has no link with her
Those exposed to high levels of antimony, which is used as a semiconductor in electronics, can suffer lung and heart problems.
A police investigation into whether Imane’s death was suspicious has been shelved due to lack of evidence.
A post-mortem found she had succumbed to aplastic anemia, an illness that caused her bone marrow to stop producing red blood cells.
While it can occur naturally, it can also be caused by radiation, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides and solvents.
Investigators admit having no idea how she contracted it but Imane’s sister Fatima, her mother Sayeeda and Cosimo are convinced she was poisoned to silence her for ever. ‘Why did she die? Because she chose to speak the truth,’ said Fatima, 45, as her elderly mother nodded her agreement.
Berlusconi, 83, has denied ever meeting Imane and has always insisted that he has no link with her.
‘I never met this person, never talked to her,’ he said after her death. ‘What I read of her statements made me think that everything was invented, absurd.’
Fatima is tortured by not being with her sister when she died. Having been reassured by Imane, she stayed at her home in Neuchatel, Switzerland, to care for her and Cosimo’s sick son.
It was only when her husband called to tell her that her sister was dying that Fatima rushed to Milan on March 1 – tragically arriving 30 minutes after Imane passed away. ‘When I finally got to the hospital, she was already dead,’ said Fatima.
‘Cosimo came to reception to meet me and looked green. I said, ‘I want to see Imane’ and he couldn’t say anything. But he didn’t have to. I knew what had happened and collapsed to my knees. I just kept saying, ‘Where is my sister?’ I couldn’t believe she was dead. The night before we had spoken on the phone and the last thing she said was, ‘See you tomorrow.’
‘I brought her some nice things to try to cheer her up, but I got there too late. How can that happen?’
Fatima recalls the day almost ten years ago when Imane’s life changed for ever. The family, originally from Morocco, had moved to Turin when Imane was two and Sayeeda opened a small hotel.
In 2009, Imane, then 25, moved to Milan to live with her sister, who was working as a model. Obsessed with football, Imane dreamed of becoming a sports journalist, but worked as a model and hostess at parties to pay the bills.
At one event she met Emilio Fede, a TV personality and Berlusconi associate, who suggested she join the then prime minister and owner of several Italian TV channels at one of his soirees.
Fede allegedly told her that doing so would secure a sports presenter job, so she agreed.
According to Fatima, Imane would return from the Berlusconi parties with stories of lurid champagne-fuelled evenings where women stripped in secret underground discos and performed sex acts on an enormous statue of the Greek god Priapus.
Fatima said: ‘When she came home she would wake me up, saying, ‘You won’t believe the things I’ve seen, the things people will do for money.’ ‘
Imane claimed Berlusconi would hand the women envelopes stuffed with cash and trays of fake jewellery.
‘He would give her thousands of euros and Imane would just say, ‘I don’t want your money, I just want a job, that’s why I’m here.’
Imane never had to strip, but after attending nine dinners it was obvious that the promised job wasn’t going to materialise and she decided to stop going.’
The story would likely have come to an end at that point, but the Italian media identified Imane as an ‘Olgettina’ – the name given to women who lived in Berlusconi’s mansion in Lombardy.
Fatima claims Berlusconi’s associates offered €1 million for her silence, but her sister refused
Besieged by reporters, Imane became reclusive and began to suffer from depression.
‘She refused to leave the house. She was absolutely furious and just wanted the truth to come out,’ Fatima said.
‘I would go out to work in the morning and come home later and find her in the same position on the sofa. Her life began to unravel.’
Driven by a desire to clear her name and expose Berlusconi, Imane launched a civil claim to restore her reputation, eventually winning a €40,000 payout.
Fatima claims Berlusconi’s associates offered €1 million for her silence, but her sister refused.
‘They offered her money but she wanted to defend her honour and clear her name,’ she said.
‘She wanted to show what kind of man Berlusconi is. She used to say, ‘I want people to know who he is, what he is like.’ ‘
Concerned about her growing obsession with Berlusconi, Fatima and Cosimo pleaded with her to join them in Switzerland where they run a business.
‘She said she would but had to see the Berlusconi business to the end,’ Cosimo said.
At Berlusconi’s trial in 2012, Imane’s evidence – including a description of a striptease by two women dressed as nuns mimicking the film Sister Act – made headlines around the world. ‘I was so proud of her,’ Fatima said.
‘There were two other girls giving evidence and Imane would put her arm around them and say, ‘We are just telling the truth.’ She gave them the courage they needed.’
Imane did make occasional trips to Switzerland, but even when Cosimo offered to find her a job there, she insisted she needed to focus on her book.
Fatima’s devastation at failing to be with her sister at the end is all too evident: ‘I just never believed, even at her lowest, that Imane would die.
She had her whole future ahead of her. She was learning English and wanted to spent time in the US.
‘From the age of 25 to 34 – for nine years – this took over her life. How can she die at 34? It’s not right.’
The family are determined to get answers whatever the risk. ‘We can’t let this be forgotten, the truth must come out,’ Fatima said.
‘It’s incredible to think that it all comes down to nine dinners. If you look at her story, she went out to get some work and ended up dead.
‘The authorities are telling us to hold a funeral for Imane but we are determined to have another post-mortem. Imane was always searching for the truth. The only way to honour her memory is to do the same thing.’
Mr Berlusconi did not respond to a request to comment on the family’s claims.