Silvio Berlusconi sentenced to jail in underage sex trial

Silvio BerlusconiSilvio Berlusconi. AP photo

An Italian court today sentenced Silvio Berlusconi to seven years in jail and banned the former premier from public office after convicting him of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power.

The judges handed down a sentence that went beyond the request of prosecutors, who had called for the 76-year-old billionaire to serve six years.

The sentence is "completely illogical. The judges even went beyond the prosecutors' request," Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini told journalists after the verdict was read out.

A small group of protesters cheered and applauded outside the courtroom, and sang the national anthem.

The verdict brings to a climax a two-year trial which sparked a media frenzy amid allegations of strippers dressed as nuns and erotic party games with topless girls.

The sentence will be suspended until all appeals have been exhausted, a process likely to take years.

Berlusconi's age also means he is unlikely to ever see the inside of a prison cell because of lenient sentencing guidelines in Italy for people over the age of 70.

The trial relates to crimes committed in 2010 when Berlusconi was prime minister, and revolves around what prosecutors have described as erotic parties held at his luxury residence outside Milan.

Berlusconi was accused of paying for sex on several occasions with Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, a then 17-year-old exotic dancer and busty glamour girl nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer".

He was also accused of having called a police station to pressure for El-Mahroug's release from custody when she was arrested for theft.

His defence claimed he believed El-Mahroug was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident, but prosecutors insisted it was a bid to conceal their liaison.

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