Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office in a sex-for hire case. Although the court banned him from holding office, the ruling cannot take effect until he has exhausted his appeals.
The 76-year-old former prime minister was sentenced by a court in Milan for paying an underage Moroccan teen for sex. He was further sentenced for abuse of office after he intervened to get the former nightclub dancer, Karima El Mahroug, released from police custody after she was arrested on suspicion of theft.
Berlusconi and El Mahroug, popularized by the Italian media as “Ruby the Heartstealer,” deny having had sex with each other.
Prosecutors had asked the court for a one year sentence for paying for sex with a minor, plus five years and a lifetime ban from holding public office for the abuse of power charge.
Berlusconi still have two more levels of appeal before the sentence can be finalized.
Even if Berlusconi ultimately fails to appeal the verdict, the septuagenarian might be deemed too old to be incarcerated in accordance with Italian law and will instead be put under house arrest.
His conviction comes in the wake of a two-year trial that has captivated Italy with sordid accounts of alleged “bunga bunga” sex parties at Berlusconi’s private outside Milan while he was still acting as Prime Minister in 2010.
Monday’s conviction represents the latest in a series of legal battles which have bogged down the former prime minister. In May, an appeals court upheld a tax fraud conviction against Berlusconi, although the former PM is waiting to appeal a four-year sentence stemming from that case with Italy’s Court of Cassation.
Berlusconi had earlier lobbied to have both trials moved out of Milan on the grounds that he could not get a fair trial in the city. His lawyers have repeatedly claimed their client was being“persecuted” for his conservative politics. In March, the ex-premier was further sentenced to one year in prison for violating Italy’s secrecy laws after a court found he had made public a police wiretap concerning a political rival in 2005.
Although Berlusconi has held no official post since resigning from office in November 2011, he maintains considerable influence within the country’s unstable cross-party coalition which emerged following inconclusive elections in February.