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Berlusconi associate admits 'excess' at 'bunga bunga' parties

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (C) leaves his residence at Grazioli palace, downtown Rome June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Genti
Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (C) leaves his residence at Grazioli palace, downtown Rome June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Genti

MILAN (Reuters) - A close associate of Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday he agreed with descriptions of "bunga bunga" parties at the former prime minister's palatial residence as "excess, abuse of power and degradation."

Show-business agent Lele Mora, one of three people charged with aiding and abetting under-aged prostitution, told a court in Milan that he had taken young women to the parties and had received a loan from Berlusconi.

In his declaration to the court, he denied that he had pushed the women into prostitution but delivered an unusually severe judgment on the evenings, which Berlusconi has repeatedly described as "elegant dinners".

"Yesterday I read three words in a newspaper that described what happened and what you are judging today: excess, abuse of power and degradation. It's true, that is how it was," he said.

A Milan court sentenced Berlusconi on Monday to seven years in jail and banned him from public office after convicting him of paying for sex with a minor and of abuse of office. He will remain free pending the outcome of his appeals, expected to take several years to resolve.

Prosecutors have presented evidence describing unbridled scenes involving young women stripping and performing raunchy dances at Berlusconi's parties and being rewarded with envelopes stuffed with thousands of euros in cash.

The case, one of a series facing the 76-year-old center-right leader and billionaire media tycoon, has compounded the tensions in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's governing coalition, which depends on Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Speaking in Brussels on Friday, Letta, from the center-left Democratic Party (PD), repeated that he was confident the PDL would continue to support his government.

Prosecutors say that Mora, a longstanding associate of Berlusconi, helped recruit young women, including Karima El Maroug, the former teenaged nightclub dancer known as "Ruby the Heartstealer" who is at the center of the case.

They are seeking a seven-year sentence for Mora and for his co-defendants Emilio Fede, a former newscaster on one of Berlusconi's television stations, and Nicole Minetti, a former dental hygienist who later became a PDL regional councilor.

Mora's lawyers have denied that his involvement constituted an offence and have asked for him to be cleared of the charges.

Berlusconi voiced outrage at the verdict in his own trial, which he said was politically motivated, and repeated that he was "absolutely innocent".

(Reporting By Sara Rossi; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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