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Berlusconi associates found guilty on sex charges

Nicole Minetti, Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's former dental hygienist and member of the Lombardy regional council, prese
Nicole Minetti, Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's former dental hygienist and member of the Lombardy regional council, prese

By Ilaria Polleschi

MILAN (Reuters) - Three associates of Silvio Berlusconi were sentenced to jail terms on Friday by an Italian court that found them guilty of aiding and abetting prostitution by procuring girls for paid sex with the former prime minister.

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.

Friday's verdict adds to Berlusconi's legal woes and complicates matters for Prime Minister Enrico Letta's fragile left-right coalition, whose survival depends on Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party.

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

Nicole Minetti, Berlusconi's former dental hygienist who later became a PDL regional councilor, 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.

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 center of a tense battle in which Berlusconi, leader of Italy's main center-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 Berlusconi and around 30 other people, including his lawyers, should face charges over evidence given in the case.

In Berlusconi's case, this might involve influencing witnesses, judicial sources said.

Berlusconi's lawyers Piero Longo and Niccolo Ghedini said in a statement they had collected statements from witnesses fairly and in a transparent manner during their own investigation in the case, rejecting allegations of possible wrongdoing as "absurd".

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

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

(Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Alison Williams)

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