Eight charged with supplying prostitutes to Berlusconi

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gestures during a debate in the upper house of parliament in Rome Mr Berlusconi says he was unaware of the activities of the eight people charged

Prosecutors in Italy have charged eight people with supplying prostitutes for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The charges were made as investigators concluded an inquiry into a number of friends and associates of Mr Berlusconi in the southern city of Bari.

The suspects are alleged to have procured young women for Mr Berlusconi as well as several other of his business associates.

Mr Berlusconi has not been charged in connection with this investigation.

His lawyers said he was unaware of the activities of the eight people charged. Prosecutors say they supplied the women in the hope of gaining jobs, contracts or favours.

Prosecutors in Bari have been investigating a high-level prostitution ring allegedly run by local businessman Giampaolo Tarantini for three years.

'Without foundation'

Mr Tarantini is already in prison in Naples in connection over a separate extortion case, where he is alleged to have sought payments totalling 800,000 euros (£1m) from Mr Berlusconi in exchange for lying to the Bari investigators.

In this case, prosecutors says Mr Tarantini recruited prostitutes, starlets and other young women to attend parties at Mr Berlusconi's homes.

Along with Mr Tarantini, a German actress called Sabina Began - nicknamed "the Queen Bee" - is also facing charges.

The charges include exploiting prostitution, paying the girls for their services, and escorting them to Mr Berlusconi's residences in Sardinia and Rome for parties in 2008 and 2009.

Mr Berlusconi denies hosting orgies, and says the events were dinner parties.

"They were nothing but friendly gatherings," Mr Berlusconi's lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, said in a statement.

Using the services of a prostitute over the age of 18 is legal in Italy, but Mr Berlusconi is charged in yet another case being tried in Milan with having paid for sex with a then-17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer.

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