MILAN (Reuters) - A former dental hygienist accused of procuring a minor for paid sex with Silvio Berlusconi rejected the charge on Friday and said her relationship with the 76-year-old media billionaire had been based on "true love".
Nicole Minetti is on trial alongside Emilio Fede, a former news anchor in Berlusconi's Mediaset broadcasting empire, and Lele Mora, a showbusiness agent in a case running alongside Berlusconi's own trial for allegedly paying for sex with a minor.
Prosecutors have asked for seven-year jail sentences for the three, who all deny the charges. A verdict in both trials is expected later this month.
Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with former nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, alias "Ruby the Heartstealer", in 2010 when she was under the age of 18, and of abuse of office to get her released from police custody on a separate occasion.
In a statement read out in court, Fede denied introducing El Mahroug to Berlusconi or being aware of her age.
Minetti, a former regional councilor who resigned her seat last year, said she had often attended lunches and dinners at Berlusconi's palatial residence at Arcore near Milan and had sometimes stayed for several days at a time.
She said Berlusconi had helped her enter politics as a regional councillor. "It was obvious that he would be happy to help me," she said.
"I want to say that I had a feeling of true love for Silvio Berlusconi," she told the court.
Minetti said she had faced a "ferocious campaign of hatred and defamation" in the media. "I've had threats and insults against me and my family everywhere," she told the court.
She said she had met El Mahroug at Arcore but was not aware the girl was under 18 and "had never had any reason to doubt her age was different from what she said".
She denied prosecutors' accusations that she arranged for other young women, housed at Berlusconi's expense in an apartment building in Milan, to take part in sex parties.
El Mahroug, who denies being a prostitute or ever having had sex with Berlusconi, has told judges she lied about her age when she attended so-called "bunga bunga" parties at Arcore, where the alleged offences are said to have taken place.
(Reporting by Sara Rossi; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Roche)