Berlusconi found guilty on sex charges

The former Italian PM was sentenced to seven years in prison for paying for sex with a minor.

Former Italy Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Picture: AFP.

MILAN - A Milan court sentenced Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday to seven years in prison after convicting him of paying for sex with a minor but he will not have to serve any jail time before he has exhausted appeals.

With two appeals possible, it could be years before a verdict is final and Berlusconi lawyers announced they would file an appeal against what his counsel Niccolo Ghedini called a "completely illogical" verdict.

The verdict against the flamboyant 76-year-old media tycoon added to the complications facing Prime Minister Enrico Letta, whose fragile left-right coalition is supported by Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Berlusconi was found guilty of paying for sex with former teenage nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, better known under her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", during alleged "bunga bunga" sex parties at his palatial home near Milan.

The panel of three judges, all women, also convicted him of abuse of office by arranging to have El Mahroug released from police custody when she was detained in a separate theft case. As a result, the judges banned Berlusconi from public office.

The verdict closes a two-year trial that has mesmerised Italy with its accounts of "bunga bunga" parties at the billionaire's private villa outside Milan while he was premier in 2010.

Several PDL members have urged Berlusconi to withdraw his backing for the government, and he may be more tempted to do so if he decides it is giving him no legal protection.

"It's disgusting, a disgrace," one of his most faithful lieutenants, senior party official Daniela Santanche, told reporters in front of the Milan court. But she said it would not impact the functioning of the government.

"We want this government to act to do the things Italians need, so this ruling has nothing to do with the ruling."

Berlusconi always denied wrongdoing and says he is being persecuted by left-wing prosecutors. He says the purported sex parties were elegant dinners where the female guests performed "burlesque" shows. El Mahroug denies having sex with Berlusconi.