An outraged Silvio Berlusconi has accused judges at a Milan court of being politically motivated after they handed him a seven-year jail sentence for abuse of office and for paying for sex with an underage prostitute.
The decision could threaten Italy’s fragile coalition if Berlusconi now decides the government has not given him enough protection and pulls his support.
Berlusconi will remain free pending an appeal process which could take years.
Both the former premier and the one time teenage nightclub dancer at the centre of the case deny having intimate relations and the related charges which are said to have taken place during one of his so-called bunga-bunga parties at his private villa.
Outside the court anti-Berlusconi protesters celebrated the sentence which was one year more than prosecutors had asked for.
Berlusconi’s chief lawyer Niccolo Ghedini was incredulous:
“This is not a sentence that is political or apolitical, it is a sentence that is completely out of tune with reality and unrelated to the evidence that emerged during the trial.”
Berlusconi says he is being persecuted by the courts and told a rally last month that he was determined to push through reforms of the legal system. It followed the upholding of a four-year jail sentence against him for tax fraud.