MILAN Italian prosecutors called on Monday for a six-year jail sentence and a lifetime ban on holding public office for centre-right leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is charged with abuse of office and paying for sex with a minor.
The 76-year-old billionaire media tycoon and senator is accused of paying for sex with Karima El Mahroug, better known by her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", when she was under 18, during the now notorious "bunga bunga" parties at his villa at Arcore near Milan in 2010.
However, prosecutors considered by far the more serious charge was that he abused the powers of his office during a separate incident by arranging for her to be released from police custody where she was being held on theft charges.
They requested five years imprisonment for that and a year for paying for sex with a minor. The verdict is expected on June 24. But no final verdict will be enforced in either case until the appeals process, which can last for years, is exhausted.
Still, Berlusconi's legal difficulties have created growing tension within Prime Minister Enrico Letta's governing coalition, which includes the ex-premier's centre-right party.
"At Arcore there was a system of organised prostitution aimed at the satisfaction of the sexual pleasure of Silvio Berlusconi," Milan chief prosecutor Ilda Boccassini said in a more than six-hour closing argument.
Boccassini said a small army of young women, many of them aspiring starlets, took part in the sex parties at Berlusconi's residence, hoping to make it big on one of his television channels. Those who stayed on after dinner were rewarded with cash, cars or free apartments, she said.
The prosecutor said mobile phone records showed that Ruby, a Moroccan runaway, had spent the night at Berlusconi's home on at least seven occasions between February and May 2010.
"There is no doubt that Ruby had sex with the defendant, from whom she received benefits," Boccassini said, adding that Berlusconi was well aware she was a minor.
Berlusconi flatly denies the accusations. El Mahroug, who staged a dramatic protest outside the Milan court last month, denies being a prostitute or having had sex with Berlusconi.
Boccassini portrayed Ruby as a "shrewd, intelligent girl who like some young people of the latest generations has only one objective: that of making it in the world of show business and making easy money".
When, in May 2010, she was held by police on suspicion of stealing a 3,000-euro (2,545 pounds) bracelet, Berlusconi "was forced to intervene and abuse his office" to keep her quiet and cover up the affair, Boccassini said.
In a statement, Berlusconi called Boccassini's arguments "lies inspired by prejudice and hatred".
The sentencing request added to a morass of legal problems facing Berlusconi, who last week lost an appeal against a four-year sentence for tax fraud in connection with his Mediaset broadcasting empire. He has launched a second and final appeal against that sentence.
Berlusconi mounted a fierce attack on prosecutors over the weekend at a stormy rally in the northern city of Brescia that was attended by centre-right members of the government including Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.
Letta's own centre-left Democratic Party (PD) sharply criticised Alfano's presence at the rally and the prime minister warned his coalition partners that there could be no repeat if the government was to survive.
Berlusconi's campaign continued on Sunday with a lavish two-hour special on his own Canale 5 channel presenting his version of the "bunga bunga" evenings.
The programme showed El Mahroug admitting that she had lied about certain aspects of her life to investigators but flatly denying any sexual relationship with Berlusconi and complaining at media representations of her as a prostitute.
It filmed the dining room and theatre at Berlusconi's palatial villa near Milan and presented an array of witnesses who said the evenings there were convivial parties where he entertained guests by singing and telling stories.
However several women who testified at the trial spoke of girls, sometimes dressed up as nuns, stripping off at the parties while performing raunchy pole dances.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)