A photographer says he has uncovered a secret and elaborate underground cave leading from the villa of Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to the sea, likely built as an emergency escape route and secret lair.
Built along the coast of Sardinia, the cave and tunnel are partly submerged underwater. A series of chambers and passageways include swimming pools and an enormous mosaic of the Roman sea god Neptune, as seen in photos posted on the blog of photographer Antonello Zappadu.
CLICK HERE for pictures from inside Berlusconi's secret cave.
A series of discreet lights set into the floors of the villa indicate the path to a passageway that leads to the cave.
Berlusconi, 75, one of Italy's richest men and known for his flamboyance, hinted at the lair's existence in 2004, but it had never previously been seen publically.
"It was the secret services who asked me to carry out the work, after I had received 38 death threats," Berlusconi said at the time.
Zappadu, who lives in Columbia, says on his blog that he did not take the photos himself but acquired them from an anonymous source. He compares the cave to something out of a James Bond film.
When contacted by ABC News, Zappadu confirmed the authenticity of the images but referred questions about the images and their sale to a British photo agency.
The photographer is well known in Europe as paparazzo, famous for capturing Berlusconi.
In 2009, Zappadu captured Berlusconi at the villa surrounded by topless women. Among the guests photographed at a party Zappadu snapped pictures of was the former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek, naked at the time.
Satellite images of 150-acre Villa Certosa show an amphitheatre on the grounds, and Berlusconi reportedly built a giant mock volcano on the property for a party.
While in office, Berlusconi routinely entertained heads of state and government there, but it was another sort of entertaining at the villa that made headlines and ultimately led to Berlusconi's downfall.
Berlusconi stepped down in November after three terms and nine years in office, when Italy found itself on the brink of the European financial crisis and the premier was laid low by a spiraling sex scandal.
Allegations emerged in 2010 that Berlusconi hosted at Villa Certosa lavish orgies, or so-called "bunga bunga" parties. Among the guests was allegedly a 17-year-old prostitute named Karima el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby the Heart Stealer.
El-Mahroug told reporters the "bunga bunga" ritual was taught to Berlusconi by former Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi, who was killed in an uprising last year.
- Politics & Government