A woman celebrates outside the court house after Berlusconi was found guilty.
Image Reuters

A Milan court on Monday found former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi guilty in a sex-for-hire trial and sentenced him to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from public office. The court said that Berlusconi, 76, paid an underage prostitute for sex during "bunga-bunga" parties at his villa and covered it up by exerting his political influence. Berlusconi and the Moroccan woman at the center of the scandal, Karima el-Mahroug, both deny they ever had sex. His lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, announced Berlusconi would appeal and said the sentence was as expected as it was unjust, calling it "beyond reality". The former prime minister currently holds no official post in the government but is still an influential figure in the country's political scene.

El-Mahroug, a nightclub dancer widely known by her stage name Ruby Rubacuori (Heartstealer), was 17 at the time of the alleged events, first met Berlusconi at his neoclassical villa near Milan in 2010. Prosecutors claimed that El-Mahroug visited Berlusconi on several occasions between February and May that year and had sex with him for money. El-Mahroug had been called to testify by Berlusconi's defense team but after she failed to show up to the trial on two separate occasions, they dropped her from their list of witnesses. She did, however, testify in another trial - that of three Berlusconi aides who had been charged with procuring prostitutes for the parties - and told the court then that the parties which Berlusconi had described as "elegant dinners" with a touch of tasteful burlesque had featured dancers performing striptease acts as nuns and another who dressed as Barack Obama and a prosecutor who had led earlier cases against Berlusconi.

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El-Mahroug, now 20, said then she never saw "contact" between the women and their host, according to the Guardian, but she did testify that Berlusconi gave her an envelope with as much as $3,900 or 3,000 euros each time she showed up to the half-dozen parties at the villa.

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When the then-teenager was arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of theft, the Milan police station where she was being held received phone calls from Berlusconi, who was in Paris at the time. Berlusconi pressed police to release her, saying he believed her to be a relative of then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. El-Mahroug told the court in the aides' trial that she had falsely boasted she was related to Mubarak to impress people.

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The verdict comes not long after Berlusconi was convicted for tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison and a five-year ban from public office. That court decision survived a first appeal and is heading to Italy's highest court. In Italy, defendants can appeal twice before a sentence becomes final.

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