Berlusconi associates accused over underage prostitution

Reuters News
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Posted: May 31, 2013 9:32 AM
Berlusconi associates accused over underage prostitution

By Sara Rossi

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors accused two associates of Silvio Berlusconi on Friday of recruiting teenager Karima El Mahroug, alias "Ruby the Heartstealer", for paid sex with the former prime minister despite knowing that she was under 18 years of age.

A verdict in Berlusconi's own trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor and abuse of office is expected next month, a potential headache for the governing coalition of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, which depends on Berlusconi's support to survive.

Emilio Fede, a former news anchor in Berlusconi's Mediaset television empire, and showbusiness agent Lele Mora were "associates and accomplices" in a well-organised system in which women were offered money or presents to attend the parties, prosecutor Antonio Sangermano told a hearing in Milan.

Fede and Mora, together with former dental hygienist Nicole Minetti, face charges of procuring El Mahroug in a case running alongside Berlusconi's own trial. All three deny the charges.

El Mahroug, a former nightclub dancer, has also denied ever being a prostitute or having sex with the 76-year-old Berlusconi although she has said she attended parties at his home where she received thousands of euros in cash.

Fede, who first saw El Mahroug at a beauty contest in Sicily, "had appreciated Ruby's beauty like a connoisseur of fine wines," Sangermano told the court, adding that Mora had "kept her warm before introducing her on to the circuit."

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 what they say are politically motivated prosecutors of trying to destroy him.

In Berlusconi's trial, prosecutors have asked for a six-year jail term as well as a lifetime ban on holding public office for the media magnate, who also denies all charges.

Berlusconi has repeatedly said the parties at his sumptuous residence near Milan were elegant dinners attended by a wide variety of people. However, several witnesses have testified that striptease shows were staged at the parties by women dressed up as nuns or policewomen.

On Friday, Sangermano said prosecutors had no choice but to go ahead with the trial once they became aware of police evidence surrounding El Mahroug.

"Is there anyone who wears a magistrate's robes of office with any dignity who could have blocked their ears?" he said.

He described El Mahroug as "a minor who went about town with a packet of money, lived with a professional prostitute and declared that she frequented the house of a rich and powerful man".

She was "an integral part" of a system of paid sex at the parties involving a large number of young women, many of whom lived in apartments owned by Berlusconi in Milan, he said.

While Fede and Mora were accused of recruiting El Mahroug and others, Minetti, who stepped down last year as a regional councillor for Berlusconi's People of Freedom party in Milan, was accused of managing the young women's activities.

(Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Mark Heinrich)