Italian newspaper La Stampa cited Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday as saying that Putin had offered him Russian citizenship and the position of minister of economic development.

He added: “Think about it: in Italy I am marginalised while Putin tells me he is ready to give me (Russian) citizenship and get me the lead of the Russian economy ministry”.

Putin and Berlusconi have long been friends, and during a visit to Rome by Putin in June Berlusconi pledged that his Forza Italia party would work to lift sanctions imposed on Russian Federation by the West in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

However, despite their close friendship, a Kremlin spokesman said President Putin’s offer should not be seen as serious.

And they stayed in touch, last month sharing a relaxing weekend in Siberia. “And specifically in this given instance a figurative support for Berlusconi is implied which should be viewed precisely as figurative support and not as a formal offer to assume any official post, something which would of course be impossible”, Peskov said.

Mr Berlusconi stood down from power in Italy in 2011 following a series of trials.

In March, Italy’s highest court upheld his acquittal on charges that he paid for sex with an under-age dancer and then used his influence to cover it up, amid the notorious Bunga Bunga scandal.

But two weeks ago he was sentenced to three years in jail and banned from holding public office after being found guilty of bribing a senator in 2008.

However, the story comes two years after Gerard Depardieu, a French actor, befriended Putin and was given a Russian passport after criticising taxes on top earners in France.

He had just completed a community service order for tax fraud and analysts said it could pave the way for the 78-year-old to return to Italian politics.