An Italian entrepreneur and an actress nicknamed the "Queen Bee" of Silvio Berlusconi's female entourage were found guilty yesterday of recruiting prostitutes for alleged sex parties at the then prime minister's mansions in Rome and Milan.
Gianpaolo Tarantini, who wanted to curry favour with the billionaire businessman in the hope of winning lucrative contracts and forging a career in politics, was sentenced to seven years and 10 months in prison.
Sabina Began, a German model and actress living in Italy who claimed in court this week that she had been in love with Mr Berlusconi, was sentenced to 16 months.
Two businessmen involved in the scandal, Peter Faraone and Massimiliano Verdoscia, were also found guilty and sentenced to between two and three years. All four had been accused of procuring prostitutes and inducing women into prostitution.
During the trial in Bari, which started nearly two years ago, they were accused of recruiting 26 glamorous young models, escorts and showgirls to attend parties at the politician's luxury homes.
The so-called "bunga-bunga" parties, which Mr Berlusconi has always insisted were "elegant dinners" where he sang and played the piano, were held in 2008 and 2009.
They were organised shortly after he had been left by Veronica Lario, his wife of 20 years.
Mr Berlusconi has always claimed that he has never paid for sex and that he had no idea any of the women were prostitutes. He was not accused of any crime but the court announced that it was forwarding the trial documents to prosecutors to determine whether he had tried to obstruct justice by paying some of the starlets to give favourable testimony.
The convictions are an embarrassment for him at a time when he is trying to relaunch his political career.
The scandal broke after one of the women who attended the parties, Patrizia D'Addario, claimed that she had been paid to have sex with the prime minister. The alleged encounter took place on a huge bed that was a gift to the media mogul from his friend Vladimir Putin, she said.
She wrote a book about her alleged fling with Mr Berlusconi called Prime Minister, Take Your Pleasure, a reference to a scene in a Federico Fellini film, Amarcord, in which a prostitute climbs into bed and invites an Italian aristocrat to have his way with her.
Ms D'Addario said she felt as though she had entered a "harem" when she attended the soiree, with starlets competing for the favours of the prime minister, whom she described as the only man in the room "with the right to copulate".
"Having been an escort I thought I'd seen a fair few things, but this I'd never seen, 20 women for one man.
"Normally in an orgy you have roughly the same number of men and women, otherwise people get upset," she wrote in the book. "But here the other men had no say. There was just one man with the right to copulate and that was the prime minister."
Francesca Lana and Letizia Filippi, two glamour models who were also on trial on the same charges, were acquitted. None of the defendants was behind bars last night. They will remain at liberty pending an appeals process that could last for several years.