Silvio Berlusconi's right-hand man, Marcello Dell'Utri, has been sentenced to seven years in jail for mafia links.

Palermo appeal court confirmed a sentence on Dell'Utri, the co-founder of Berlusconi's first political party, Forza Italia, and former senator with his latest political venture, People of Freedom party (PDL).

"I hoped for a different outcome but I accept the verdict," Dell'Utri said. "The crime novel continues."

"This sentence does justice to our hard work. We are very satisfied," said prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio.

The controversial trial has gone on for nearly 20 years. The latest sentence came after a 2009 verdict was quashed by Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation, which ordered a retrial last year.

Dell'Utri was first placed under formal investigation in 1994, the same year that Berusconi was elected prime minister for the first time.

Prosecutors claimed dell'Utri acted as mediator between the Sicilian mafia and Berlusconi's business interests and contributed to "the consolidation and strengthening of Cosa Nostra".

Thanks to Dell'Utri's brokering. mafia bosses offered Berlusconi protection in exchange of large sums of money, prosecutors maintained.

Part of the trial revolved around the figure of Vittorio Mangano, a mafia man who worked as a groom at Berlusconi's Arcore villa near Milan from 1973-75.

Mangano was allegedly introduced to Berlusconi by Dell'Utri, who was aware of the man's criminal links, said prosecutors. Both Dell'Utri and Berlusconi have always denied that.

Berlusconi once infamously described Mangano as a "hero" because the mobster refused while serving time to "make up false accusations" against him in exchange for freedom.

Mangano died under house arrest in 2000. He had been found guilty of two murders, drug trafficking and blackmail.

Marcello Dell’Utri
Silvio Berlusconi’s right-hand man Marcello Dell’Utri (Reuters)