Silvio Berlusconi has dominated Italian politics since 1994. If Italy is in bad shape, he’s the man to blame.Others have even called him “The Man Who Screwed An Entire Country”.
Few individuals have had such a profound and prolonged effect on a Western democracy. Here’s what you need to know.
Silvio Berlusconi clocks in at #118 in Forbes list of billionaires. His wealth is estimated at $7.8 billion.
Incredibly, he's a self-made billionaire -- he made his fortune through his media empire and not through inherited companies or property. He started off his career as a singer on a cruise ship.
Giovanni Brusca, a mafia informer, told an Italian court:
'In the early 1980s, the Mafia through Stefano Bontade (a Mafia leader in Palermo, Sicily) invested a lot of money through Berlusconi.'
'I then heard through various people Berlusconi was paying pizzo (protection).'
'It came to about 600 million old lire a year (£300,000) -- it was all tied to his business activities in Sicily.'
Source: The Telegraph
Mediaset, one of Berlusconi's TV companies, is the largest commercial broadcaster in Italy. Berlusconi's domination of the Italian media means that press freedom organisations have criticised Italy as being only 'partly free,' because the lack of a media plurality.
The Economist estimates Berlusconi controls 90% of Italian television.
Berlusconi became Prime Minister for the first time in 1994 after founding his own party, 'Forza Italy,' which in English means Go Italy. It's also a chant for AC Milan, the football club he owns. His government collapsed seven months later, but Berlusconi rose to power again in 2001.
Berlusconi's success comes in part from the collapse of traditional left and right wing parties in Italy in the early 1990s. Untainted by the collapse, and with huge reserves of money, Berlusconi was quickly able to establish himself.
Source: BBC News
In 2009 photos of semi-naked young women partying outside Berlusconi's villa made their way into Spain's El Pais newspaper.
The person who took the pictures told the newspaper that 'virtually every weekend' Italian air force flights brought Berlusconi's friends, dancers and television hostesses to the villa.
Berlusconi allegedly gives out expensive party favours. Pier Corso told a court in Milan that Berlusconi gave women gifts, saying:
'There are those who were given a Land Rover, those who got a Smart car, those who received an apartment in the city centre and those who were elected to a regional assembly...to be elected in this way is not a crime.'
Veronica Lario, Berlusconi's wife at the time, wrote an editorial against Berlusconi in the La Repubblica newspaper (not Berlusconi owned or affiliated) alleging that the Prime Minister offended her dignity by constantly flirting with women on national TV and appointing showgirls to European Parliament positions.
Berlusconi and Lario later divorced.
Source: Washington Post
Berlusconi struck back, taking the British publication to court for libel and claiming that their stories were an 'insult to truth and intelligence.' Berlusconi lost the libel case, and had to pay The Economist's court expenses.
Source: The Economist (pdf)
Berlusconi has told the press that the courts were out to get him, and that he has spent more than $300 million on legal fees and has been a part of at least 109 trials. Berlusconi claims that back when French President Nicholas Sarkozy was a lawyer, Berlusconi employed him to take care of his legal troubles in France.
Some of his legal woes include being charged multiple times with bribery, paying an underage girl for sex, tax fraud, false account, and on one notable event, being sued on behalf of all women for insulting their dignity.
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