By Sara Rossi
MILAN (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors on Friday asked for jail sentences of seven years for three associates of Silvio Berlusconi for recruiting Karima El Mahroug, alias "Ruby the Heartstealer", for paid sex with the former prime minister when she was under 18 years old.
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 accomplices in a system in which women were paid to attend the now notorious "bunga bunga" parties at Berlusconi's villa, 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, but has said she attended parties at his palatial residence near Milan where she received thousands of euros.
Prosecutors say the three accused helped create a "system of prostitution" for Berlusconi's benefit in which dinners were followed by striptease performances in a downstairs discotheque and then sex for which the young women were paid in presents and money.
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 prosecutors of trying to destroy him for political reasons.
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 denies all charges and says he never had sexual relations with El Mahroug.
Berlusconi has described the parties at Arcore near Milan as elegant dinners attended by a wide variety of people and that he helped El Mahroug and other young women with presents of money to help them over difficult situations purely out of generosity.
Prosecutors said the parties were scenes of "bacchic orgies" and it was "wrong to say the evenings at Arcore were ordinary parties".
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 Andrew Roche)