Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison and barred from holding public office for life after he was found guilty in a sex-for-hire trial, a Milan court ruled on Monday.
After a case that lasted more than two years, three female judges found Berlusconi, 76, guilty of abuse of office and paying for sex with an underage prostitute, according to the Associated Press.
Berlusconi was charged with paying a Moroccan teen, Karima El Mahroug, for sex and attempting to cover it up with phone calls to Milan police officials when she was picked up for alleged theft, the AP reported. Both Berlusconi and El Mahroug, known as "Ruby the Heart Stealer," deny having had sex with each other.
Prosecutors were seeking a six-year jail sentence for Berlusconi – one year for the prostitution charge, and five for the abuse of office charge.
But it could take months, or even years, before Monday's verdict becomes final, according to The Daily Mail. The decision can be appealed twice before the sentence becomes final, meaning Berlusconi will not have to spend any time in jail unless he loses the appeals.
Though Berlusconi does not currently hold an official post in the Italian government, he remains influential in the uneasy cross-party coalition that emerged after inconclusive February elections, the AP reported.
Prosecutors said Berlusconi made calls to the police because he was afraid they would find out that El Mahroug, who was 17 at the time, had been attending his "bunga bunga parties" in 2010 at his mansion near Milan, according to The Telegraph.
Berlusconi maintains that the dinner parties were "elegant soirees," while prosecutors claim they were sex-fueled gatherings and that women were paid to attend, according to the AP.
Although El Mahroug has said she did receive 7,000 euros, she claims it was a gift after a party, according to BBC.
Neither Berlusconi nor El Mahroug have testified in this trial, but El Mahroug did testify in a separate trial of three Berlusconi aides charged with procuring prostitutes for the parties. In that trial, she said that showgirls performed striptease acts at the parties, according to the AP.
El Mahroug, now 20, said in the other trial that Berlusconi gave her envelopes filled with up to 3,000 euros after several of the parties.
This sentence is only part of Berlusconi's legal problems. Last month, an appeals court upheld a tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence against Berlusconi, according to CBS. In October, a court convicted Berlusconi in a tax fraud scheme that involved inflating the price his media empire paid for rights to U.S. movies, as he pocketed the difference.
In the meantime, Berlusconi's lawyer has said he plans to appeal the sentence and that it was unjust, according to the AP.
"This is beyond reality," Niccolo Ghedini said outside the courthouse. "I'm calm because I've been saying for three years that this trial should never have taken place here."