Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to three years' imprisonment after being found guilty of bribing a senator to help him topple the then government in 2008.

The Naples court also barred him on 8 July from holding any public office for five years, Agence France-Presse reported.

His lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said the verdict as "unjust and unjustified", but said the case would reach its statute of limitations on 6 November so there is not enough time the verdict to be appealed.

"It was a good trial, passionate, but in terms of consequences the imminent expiration date takes all the pathos out of the verdict," said prosecutor Henry John Woodcock.

A total of €3m (£2.16m, $3.3m) in bribes were paid through an intermediary to Senator Sergio De Gregorio to get him to quit the coalition of the-then Prime Minister Romano Prodi, weakening his government to the point of collapse.

Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party won the resulting election and the senator admitted accepting the money.

Summing up, prosecutor Vincenzo Piscitelli said the bribe was part of "a colossal economic investment made with the aim of achieving the sole goal that interested Berlusconi, who was obsessed by his desire to kick Prodi out and take his post".

The prosecution had called for a five-year sentence. Berlusconi was not in court to hear the verdict, delivered by tribunal president Isabella Romani.