SILVIO Berlusconi was handed a seven-year jail sentence yesterday and banned from holding public office for life after a court in Milan found the former Italian Prime Minister guilty of having sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his powers.
Three judges at the Tribunale di Milano ruled the billionaire media mogul paid a Moroccan-born nightclub dancer known as Ruby Heartstealer, real name Karima el-Mahroug, to have sex with him when she was 17-years old. Both denied they had sex.
Berlusconi, who owns Mediaset Group, was also convicted of contacting a police official in May 2010 to get Mahroug released after her arrest for allegedly stealing money and jewellery. He claimed he thought she was the niece of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident.
But the media tycoon is likely to remain free from jail for the forseeable future until a lengthy two-stage appeals process is exhausted. Upholding the conviction could take several years.
The verdict will be a political blow to Berlusconi’s comeback campaign. Italy’s fragile left-right government led by Prime Minister Enrico Letta depends on the support of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, but the 76-year old’s ambitions may be stifled due to ongoing litigation.
Yesterday’s verdict comes on top of a four-year jail sentence for tax evasion handed down last year, which is also on appeal.
Berlusconi has now been convicted three times in the last eight months. Shares in his Mediaset Group fell 5.3 per cent yesterday after the verdict.