Vladimir Putin has said that the only reason former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been prosecuted in court is because he straight, and that, were he gay, he would not have faced the same.

The Russian President, who is a close friend of Mr Berlusconi, told members of the Valdai International Discussion Club that “if he was homosexual no one would have lifted a finger.”

Mr Putin added that his friend had only been taken to court for issues such as a tax-fraud and having sex with an underage prostitute “because he lives with women.”

Mr Berlusconi has a tax fraud conviction banning him from office. He is currently appealing a 7-year sentence he received in June for paying for sex with an underage prostitute named Ruby.

The former Italian Premier and media magnate has also been involved in other sex scandals, including one involving an escort who secretly taped him before and after having sex on a luxurious bed given to him by Mr Putin himself.

In November 2010, during the scandal surrounding the allegations he had slept with Ruby, Mr Berlusconi said it was “better to be a fan of pretty women than to be gay.”

Last year, he said that his opponents had accused him of everything “except being gay and stealing money from Italians.”