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PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - A Palermo appeals court upheld a conviction on Monday against a close political ally and business associate of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi for colluding with the Sicilian mafia, sentencing him to seven years in prison.
Judge Raimondo Lo Forti confirmed a 2004 verdict that former Senator Marcello Dell'Utri had acted as a go-between for the mafia and the Milan business elite, including Berlusconi's businesses, until 1992.
Berlusconi, 76, is not a defendant in the trial and has only been mentioned because of his relationship with Dell'Utri. The two became friends when they attended university together in Milan in the early 1960s.
Dell'Utri ran the advertising company in Berlusconi's media empire from 1984 to 1995, and was one of the founding members in 1994 of Forza Italia, the party that Berlusconi created when he entered politics.
The former senator is no longer protected from potential arrest, having lost his parliamentary immunity when he was not selected as a candidate at the February national election.
He does not face the prospect of serving any jail time unless the verdict is confirmed by the highest appeals court.
"I had hoped for another ruling, but I accept the verdict," Dell'Utri said. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
Berlusconi himself is currently facing three ongoing trials, including one for paying for sex with a minor. A definitive conviction would preclude him from holding political office.
Berlusconi also denies any wrongdoing and says he is being persecuted by magistrates who oppose him politically
Reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone. Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Michael Roddy