Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted on appeal Friday on charges of sleeping with an underaged Moroccan prostitute, the Associated Press reports.

A lower court had convicted the 77-year-old billionaire media tycoon for paying for sex from 17-year-old Karima el-Mahroug better known as "Ruby the Heartstealer," and later attempting to cover it up by telling police Mahroug was the granddaughter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek in an effort to release her from prison. 

"I'm deeply moved: only those who stood by me in these past years know what I've suffered for this unjust and infamous accusation," Mr. Berlusconi said Friday. He claimed that he was unaware she was a minor and insisted the two never had sex.

During the trial, witnesses detailed lavish "Bunga Bunga" parties held by Berlusconi in which aspiring showgirls and prostitutes were hired for erotic entertainment. Testifying at the trial of three aids accused of procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi, Mahroug told the court the parties featured girls dressed as sexy nuns and nurses, and that one woman even dressed up as President Barack Obama for a striptease. The 20-year-old Moroccan denied receiving money or having sex with Berlusconi. 

 

Friday's acquittal reverses Berlusconi's sentence of seven years in prison and a lifetime ban on holding political office. The ruling means that Berlusconi, who resigned from office in 2011 during the height of Italy's financial crisis, remains head of the right-wing Forza Italia party. 

His supporters announced their support Friday, with Renato Brunetta, a former Berlusconi government minister writing "Berlusconi innocent!!!" on Twitter.

Berlusconi, who was recently convicted of tax fraud, is also on trial for political corruption and could face charges for possible witness-tampering in this case. The prosecution has 90 days to challenge the appeal.

Mr. Berlusconi's lawyer, Franco Coppi, said the reversal went "beyond our rosiest predictions."