[JURIST] Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was convicted Monday on charges of underage prostitution and abuse of power. The Milan court sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison and barred him from public office for life. A panel of three judges found Berlusconi guilty of paying then 17-year-old dancer Karima "Ruby" El Mahroug for sex while he was in office and for abusing his power [JURIST report] by asking police to release her when she was being detained for an unrelated crime. Both Berlusconi and El Mahroug denied the charges [BBC report]. In a statement [Facebook page] following the conviction, Berlusconi said that he believed the ruling is politically motivated and that he intends "to resist this persecution" and "will not in any way give up [his] battle to make Italy truly free and fair." The sentence will not become final until Berlusconi has fully exhausted his right to appeal.
Berlusconi has been at the center of several political scandals. Last month Italian prosecutors accused [JURIST report] Berlusconi of having paid former senator Sergio De Gregorio €3 million following the parliamentary election in 2006 to defect from the small Italy of Values [party website, in Italian] party and join the center right. Prosecutors want De Gregorio, who has admitted to taking money, to stand trial alongside Berlusconi. Also last month a Milan appeals court upheld a previous conviction [JURIST report] on tax evasion charges and affirmed Berlusconi's four-year prison sentence. In March, Berlusconi was found guilty and sentenced to a year in prison [JURIST report] for publicly releasing private wiretaps in 2005.