Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was today sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from public office for life after being found guilty of paying a teenager for sex at one of his infamous 'bunga bunga' parties.
Berlusconi, 76, paid underage Moroccan teenager Karima El Mahroug, nicknamed Ruby the heart-stealer, for sex and then tried to cover it up with phone calls to police when she was arrested for alleged theft. Berlusconi and the woman had denied having had sex.
Prosecutors were seeking a six-year jail term for underage sex and abuse of power but three female judges at a Milan court today handed him a longer sentence of seven years.
Berlusconi was also given a lifetime ban from holding public office after the former Prime Minister was found guilty today.
But the verdict can be appealed twice before the sentence becomes final, which could take months, or even years.
This means the former Premier will not have to spend any time in jail unless he loses his court appeals.
Berlusconi holds no official post in the current Italian government, but remains influential in the uneasy cross-party coalition that emerged after inconclusive February elections.
The verdict adds to mounting complications facing Prime Minister Enrico Letta, whose fragile left-right coalition government is supported by Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party.
Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, immediately announced an appeal and said the sentence was as expected as it was unjust.
'This is beyond reality,' Ghedini told reporters outside the courthouse. 'I'm calm because I've been saying for three years that this trial should never have taken place here,' Ghedini said.
The charges against the billionaire media mogul stem from his infamous 'bunga bunga' parties in 2010 at his mansion near Milan, where he wined and dined beautiful young women while he was premier.
He says the dinner parties were elegant soirees; prosecutors say they were sex-fuelled parties that women were paid to attend.
Neither Berlusconi nor the woman at the centre of the case, Karima el-Mahroug, better known by her nickname Ruby the Heart Breaker, have given evidence.
She was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters but passed herself off as being 24. while the age of sexual consent in Italy is 14, it is illegal to pay anyone under the age of 18 for sex.
Ms El-Mahroug was called by the defence but failed to show on a couple of occasions, delaying the trial. Berlusconi's team eventually dropped her from the witness list.
She did appear in the separate trial of three Berlusconi aides charged with procuring prostitutes for the parties.
She told that court that Berlusconi's disco featured aspiring showgirls dressed as sexy nuns and nurses performing striptease acts, and that one woman even dressed up as president Barack Obama.
Berlusconi was not in court on as the three female judges began deliberating his fate - or today when the final verdict was delivered.
Asked if Berlusconi was optimistic, defence lawyer Piero Longo previously said outside the court that he was a 'realist'.
Berlusconi frequently has railed against Milan prosecutors and judges, accusing them of mounting politically motivated cases against him.
Ms El-Mahroug, now 20, said in the earlier trial that she attended about a half-dozen parties at Berlusconi's villa, and that after each, Berlusconi handed her an envelope with up to 3,000 euros (£2,560).
She said she later received 30,000 euros cash from the then-premier paid through an intermediary - money that she told Berlusconi she wanted to use to open a beauty salon, despite having no formal training.
She was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters but passed herself off as being 24. She also claimed she was related to then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Berlusconi's lawyers argued that he - thinking she was Mubarak's niece - called police after she was detained in a bid to avoid a diplomatic incident.
Ms El-Mahroug denied that Berlusconi had ever given her 5 million euros.
She said she told acquaintances and even her father that she was going to receive such a large sum 'as a boast,' but that it was a lie to make her seem more important.
The verdict comes on the heels of Berlusconi's tax-fraud conviction, which along with a four-year prison sentence and five-year ban on public office, have been upheld on a first appeal.
The tax-fraud case is heading to Italy's highest court for a final appeal after Berlusconi's defence failed to derail it last week at the constitutional court.
Berlusconi, who has been tried numerous times relating to his business dealings, has been convicted in other cases at the trial level.
But those convictions have always either been overturned on appeal or the statute of limitations ran out before Italy's high court could have its say.
The sex-for-hire case is the first involving his personal conduct.