Berlusconi associates guilty of procuring prostitutes

(Left to right) Lele Mora, Nicole Minetti and Emilio Fede Mr Mora, Ms Minetti and Mr Fede are all expected to appeal

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Three associates of former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi have been found guilty of procuring prostitutes for his controversial "bunga bunga" parties.

Emilio Fede, Lele Mora and Nicole Minetti were given jail sentences of between five and seven years.

Last month Mr Berlusconi was given seven years in jail for paying for sex with 17-year-old Karima El Mahroug.

Both Mr Berlusconi and Ms Mahroug deny having had sex, and she says she has never been a prostitute.

Ms Mahroug is one of the women that the three associates in the current trial are alleged to have procured.

Mr Berlusconi is appealing against the earlier ruling, which also banned him from public office. He remains a free man and a member of parliament while he does so.

Mr Berlusconi insists the alleged sex parties were actually dinners where female guests performed "burlesque" dancing.

Raunchy dance

The three convicted in the current trial deny the charges and are likely to appeal.

The prosecution said they used to vet the young women and then introduce them to Mr Berlusconi's soirees at his mansion near Milan, the BBC's Alan Johnston reports from Rome.

The prosecution told the court the evenings would begin with dinner, but become increasingly sexually charged, our correspondent adds.

The court heard of an occasion when Ms Minetti, formerly a showgirl, performed a raunchy dance for the then prime minister.

She appeared dressed as a nun and then stripped down to her underwear.

She told her lawyer by telephone that she was "stunned by the excessive punishment", AFP reports.

Mr Mora, a former talent agent, and Mr Fede, a television host, were also banned from holding public office.

Mr Berlusconi has blamed the multiple legal cases against him on left-wing elements in the judiciary. He says they are determined to smear him and drive him out of politics.

Neither he nor Ms Mahroug was a defendant in the current trial.

However, judges have asked prosecutors to investigate whether he lied when testifying in the three aides' defence and should face further charges.

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