, ROME, Jun 24 – An Italian court on Monday 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 abusing his power to hide the liaison.
Berlusconi’s lawyers immediately said they would appeal the verdict.
The sentence went beyond the request of prosecutors, who had called for the 76-year-old billionaire to serve six years, and could spark serious tensions within Italy’s uneasy grand coalition government.
The sentence is “completely illogical,” said Berlusconi’s lawyer Niccolo Ghedini, amid a clamour from Berlusconi allies accusing the Milan judges of persecuting the three-time former prime minister.
The verdict brings to a climax a two-year trial which kicked off a media frenzy – amid allegations of strippers dressed as nuns and erotic party games with topless girls – and sparked cheers and applause from anti-Berlusconi protesters outside the court, who sang the national anthem.
The media magnate’s cronies, many of whom took to Twitter in disgust, described the verdict as “utterly shameful”, “a political verdict, a coup d’etat,” and “a pitiful attempt to oust Berlusconi.”
Berlusconi’s spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti said it confirmed “the bid to eliminate Berlusconi from the political scene… but the attempt, which has gone beyond the limits of credibility, will fail.”
Interior Minister Angelo Alfano, the secretary of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party, said the verdict was “worse than the worst case scenario” and urged him to “soldier on” — a possible reference to his support for the government.
The coalition relies on the support of the PDL, and observers had warned the capricious billionaire could pull the rug out from under the government if he felt it was not offering him legal protection.
Berlusconi did not immediately react to the verdict.