Berlusconi under investigation in prostitution case

BARI, Italy Thu Apr 19, 2012 11:44am EDT

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a meeting of the European People's Party (EPP) ahead of a two-day European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 1, 2012. REUTERS/Sebastien Pirlet

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a meeting of the European People's Party (EPP) ahead of a two-day European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Sebastien Pirlet

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BARI, Italy (Reuters) - Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing a new investigation by magistrates looking into his relationship with a man who is charged with procuring prostitutes, a justice system official said on Thursday.

The official, who declined to be identified by name, said magistrates in the southern city of Bari had extended an existing investigation into local businessman Gianpaolo Tarantini to include Berlusconi.

Magistrates have accused Tarantini of giving false testimony and holding information from them during an investigation concerning the suspected procurement of prostitutes for parties at the former prime minister's residences.

They want to determine if Tarantini made the allegedly false declarations at Berlusconi's behest.

Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said he had not yet received any formal notification that his client was under investigation in Bari.

Leading Italian newspapers, including Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, said the magistrates suspect Berlusconi may have paid hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars) to Tarantini to withhold evidence.

Berlusconi has always maintained that parties at his homes were respectable, that he has never paid for sex with a woman and that he did not know women taking part in his parties were prostitutes.

Prosecutors have linked Tarantini with Italian businessman Valter Lavitola, who was arrested earlier this week when he returned to Italy after eight months as a fugitive in Latin America.

Lavitola was an unofficial aide and fixer for Berlusconi and occasionally accompanied him on state trips abroad although he had no government role.

Naples prosecutors ordered Lavitola's arrest on charges of fraud connected to 23 million euros ($30.22 million) in public financing for L'Avanti, a socialist newspaper.

Berlusconi is facing five criminal trials, including one on charges of paying for sex with a minor.

The other four are on charges of corruption and tax fraud. He has always denied wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of politically-driven magistrates.

(Reporting By Elisa Forte; Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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