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Court sentences former Berlusconi aides for procuring prostitutes

Three former associates of Silvio Berlusconi have been found guilty of procuring prostitutes for his racy parties. The verdict is the latest to go against the scandal-ridden former premier.

A Milan court on Friday convicted the three of recruiting prostitutes to attend Silvio Berlusconi's notorious "bunga bunga" parties held at his Milan villa.

Failed show-business agent Lele Mora and television host Emilio Fede were each given seven-year jail sentences. Nicole Minetti, a TV showgirl and dental hygienist turned regional politician, received a five-year sentence.

The court also banned Moro and Fede from holding public office or working with minors for life. Minetti was given a five-year ban on holding public office.

The judges also asked prosecutors to launch an investigation into whether Berlusconi and his lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, had lied under oath while testifying in defense of Mora, Fede and Minetti.

All three defendants had denied the charges against them, and were ordered to pay court costs. They are expected to appeal, and their convictions will not be enforced unless the guilty verdict is upheld.

In Italy, this process normally takes years.

More cases to come

Friday's verdict comes just weeks after ex-premier Berlusconi was convicted on separate charges of having paid for sex with an underage prostitute, who was a guest at one of his parties, and then orchestrating a cover-up.

He received a seven-year sentence and was banned from politics for life, but the punishment was suspended on appeal.

The Moroccan-born woman at the center of the case, Karima El Mahroug - known under the stage name of "Ruby the Heart Stealer" - denied the allegations, as did Berlusconi. The prosecution used testimonies from other female guests and phone wiretaps as evidence.

In another upcoming case against the 76-year-old politician and media tycoon, on July 30 Italy's top criminal Cassation Court is to hear his final appeal of a tax fraud conviction. If last year's conviction and sentence are upheld, Berlusconi would be banned for years from public office and face a prison term.

If the conviction sticks, some Berlusconi allies fear a collapse of Italy's current ruling coalition, of which Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom party is a member.

tj/slk (AP, dpa, AFP)