Italy court finds Berlusconi associates guilty on sex charges

Three sentenced to jail for aiding former prime minister to procure girls for paid sex

An Italian court has sentenced three associates of Silvio Berlusconi to jail terms today after finding them guilty of aiding and abetting prostitution by procuring girls for paid sex with the former prime minister.

Mr Berlusconi has already been sentenced to seven years with a lifetime ban on holding public office in a related trial for paying for sex with former nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, alias Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was a minor.

Today’s verdict adds to Mr Berlusconi’s legal woes and complicates matters for prime minister Enrico Letta’s fragile left-right coalition, whose survival depends on Mr Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party.

The court sentenced show business agent Lele Mora and Emilio Fede, a former newscaster on one of Mr Berlusconi's television stations, to seven years in jail each for helping recruit young women, including Ruby.

Nicole Minetti, Mr Berlusconi's former dental hygienist who later became a PDL regional councillor, was sentenced to five years in jail.

All three have denied any wrongdoing and the sentences will not become definitive until two appeals are completed.

Ms El Mahroug has also denied ever being a prostitute or having sex with 76-year-old Berlusconi, but has said she attended parties at his palatial residence near Milan where she received thousands of euros.

The Ruby case has become the centre of a tense battle in which Mr Berlusconi, leader of Italy’s main centre-right party, and his supporters have accused prosecutors of trying to destroy him for political reasons.

In the verdict, the Milan court asked prosecutors to investigate whether Mr Berlusconi and others, including his lawyers, should face charges over evidence given in the case. In Mr Berlusconi’s case, this might involve influencing witnesses, judicial sources said.

Prosecutors have presented evidence describing unbridled scenes involving young women stripping and performing raunchy dances at Mr Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” parties and being rewarded with envelopes stuffed with money.

Mr Berlusconi says the parties were elegant, convivial dinners, and several witnesses confirmed that version in court. But some of the young women, mostly aspiring showgirls hoping to land a job on one of Mr Berlusconi’s TV channels, who attended the parties testified against the former premier.

"Finally I have managed to get some of my dignity back," said one of them, Chiara Danese. "I hope to be an example for all the girls who like me had a dream."