FORZA ITALIA: Inside The Weird World Of Silvio Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi Face

Photo: AP

Silvio Berlusconi has dominated Italian politics since 1994. If Italy is in bad shape, he’s the man to blame.Others have even called himĀ “The Man Who Screwed An Entire Country”.

This week the Italian Prime Minister announced that he does not intend to stand for reelection. He will leave the country with around $2.2 trillion in debts and no obvious way out of the hole.

Few individuals have had such a profound and prolonged effect on a Western democracy. Here’s what you need to know.

He's one of the wealthiest men in the world.

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.

Source: Forbes

He made his start in construction, but there are rumours he had links to the Mafia.

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

He soon entered the media business and now owns much of Italy's media.

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.

He also owns a major football team.

Silvio Berlusconi is owner of the football club AC Milan, and has no plans to sell it. The team is one of Italy's most iconic sporting teams, and are eight-times European champions.

Source: Bloomberg

He created his own political party and first rose to power in 1994.

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.

In his extravagant house in Sardinia he has a remote-controlled volcano.


Source: The New Yorker.

He also had a famous sculpter build him a pink mausoleum on his grounds.

Pietro Cascella, an Italian artist who did the Auschwitz memorial, also built Berlusconi a 'massive, pink marble mausoleum' on the grounds of his estate.

Source: The Atlantic

He's notoriously generous.

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 be elected in this way is not a crime.'

His estranged wife published a scornful letter to him in a national newspaper.

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

He lost a feud with The Economist.

The Economist has ran several cover stories on Berlusconi, with titles like 'The man who screwed an entire country' and 'Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to run Italy'.

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)

He has spent more than $300 million on legal bills.

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.

Source: Reuters

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