Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to seven years in jail after being found guilty of abuse of office and paying for sex with a woman allegedly working as an underage prostitute.
The former Italian prime minister was also banned from holding public office for life.
Three judges in the court in Milan found the former prime minister guilty on both the charges he faced, handing down their decision after more than seven hours of deliberation.
The convictions were a bitter blow for Mr Berlusconi and his supporters, with his close allies denouncing the court’s verdict as “absurd” and describing it as a “a coup d’etat” by an allegedly Left-wing judiciary.
“It is shameful, it is a political sentence that has nothing to do with justice,” said Daniela Santanche, an MP from Mr Berlusconi’s conservative party and one of his foremost cheerleaders.
Mr Berlusconi, 76, was accused of abuse of office and paying for sex with Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan-born nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer.
The abuse of office concerns calls he made to a Milan police station in May 2010 to have Miss El Mahroug released from custody on a theft charge.
Prosecutors said Mr Berlusconi was terrified that police would find out that the young woman, who was 17 at the time, had been attending his so-called “bunga bunga” parties at his villa outside Milan.
He allegedly wanted to hush up his relationship with Ruby, who prosecutors said attended 13 of the parties, starting on Valentine’s Day, 2010.
He told the police in Milan that Ruby was the granddaughter of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader, and that she had to be released in order to avoid a diplomatic incident with Cairo.
Prosecutors had asked for Mr Berlusconi to be sentenced to six years in prison. They also wanted him banned from public office for life.
The prosecution alleged that more than 30 glamorous young women attended Mr Berlusconi’s parties, performing strip teases and erotic dances in an underground “bunga bunga” room which featured a stage, a bar and a small dance floor.
They allegedly “touched the intimate parts” of Mr Berlusconi, who in turn touched them intimately, according to witness statements compiled by prosecutors.
The then prime minister allegedly gave the women thousands of euros each time to attend the parties and perform sexual acts.
He allegedly lavished tens of thousands of euros on Ruby.
Prosecutors insisted she had sex with him in exchange for the money.
She always denied that and insisted she had never worked as an escort.
Mr Berlusconi is certain to appeal the conviction and pending the appeal will not go to jail.
If he loses that, he will have recourse to a second appeal, which would be heard by Italy’s Supreme Court.
The whole process could drag the case out for years.