Court case against Berlusconi associates opens

MILAN Mon Jun 27, 2011 10:59am EDT

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi addresses a news conference during an European Union leaders summit in Brussels June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi addresses a news conference during an European Union leaders summit in Brussels June 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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MILAN (Reuters) - A Milan judge heard arguments on Monday to decide whether to try a dental nurse, a celebrity agent and a television anchorman accused of procuring women for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's alleged sex parties.

The case is the latest headache for Berlusconi, who is still reeling from local election and referendum defeats and faces sinking approval ratings, fractious allies and a weak economy.

Prosecutors allege Nicole Minetti, a dental hygienist-turned-regional councilor, hired women to prostitute themselves at Berlusconi's parties with the help of show business agent Lele Mora and Emilio Fede, an anchorman on a Berlusconi-owned TV channel.

All three deny the charges and were not present at the hearing. The judge must decide whether there is enough evidence to send them to trial, but no decision was expected on Monday.

If the three were ordered to trial, Berlusconi could face the prospect of new and embarrassing revelations about parties he hosted. The media magnate is himself on trial in a related case, where he faces charges of giving cash and jewels to an underage teenager called "Ruby" in return for sex.

In a further setback for the premier, two aspiring showgirls who attended one of his parties were granted the right on Monday to join a potential trial involving Berlusconi's associates.

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The two girls have told prosecutors they were shocked by erotic games they saw at the party and will have the chance to describe in court what they saw if the case proceeds to trial.

"This could lead to other girls taking action if they want," the girls' lawyer Stefano Castrale said.

Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest businessmen, admits a fondness for young women but has dismissed scandalous stories of "bunga bunga" parties. He says the dinners at his residence are elegant affairs where guests eat, tell jokes and sing songs.

Prosecutors allege that a significant number of women prostituted themselves with Berlusconi at the parties, and leaked wiretaps splashed over Italian media have offered graphic accounts of wild sex games at the events.

The conservative prime minister has seen off a series of sex scandals in recent years, but the "Rubygate" scandal has taken its toll on a premier fighting to revive his political fortunes after splitting with ally Gianfranco Fini last year.

At the heart of the scandal is nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, who goes by the stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer."

She is considered an "injured party" in Berlusconi's trial, but is considering whether to take an active part in seeking damages, her lawyer Egidio Verzini said on Monday.

(Writing by Antonella Ciancio and Deepa Babington; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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