Born in Milan, Italy, on September 29, 1936, Silvio Berlusconi rose from a middle class background to become one of the wealthiest men in the country. In 1993, Berlusconi founded his own right-wing political party; he went on to become a three-time prime minister. Though he has been dogged by scandal and has been convicted of several crimes, Berlusconi remains a powerful figure in Italy.
Silvio Berlusconi was born in Milan, Italy, on September 29, 1936. He sold vacuum cleaners and sang on cruise ships before making a fortune in real estate.
Success via Television
Berlusconi launched a cable channel, Telemilano, in 1974. Although Italian television was heavily regulated, Berlusconi then started a commercial network. He introduced Italy to many foreign TV shows and to veline, showgirls who would strip or dance during game shows and news programs.
Berlusconi now controls three private television networks in Italy. His business empire also includes the AC Milan football (soccer) club, a publishing house and numerous magazines.
In 1993, Berlusconi founded a political party, Forza Italia (Go Italy). He became prime minister in 1994, but the coalition that brought him to power fell apart seven months later. However, Berlusconi was still a popular political figure, especially with people who hoped that his business acumen would help Italy's economy. With promises of tax cuts and job growth, he took over as prime minister again in 2001, staying in power until 2006.
With his renamed political party, Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom), Berlusconi became prime minister for a third time in 2008. He resigned in 2011, after witnessing Italy's debt burdens surge during the eurozone crisis. Berlusconi remains the leader of his party, which gave him the ability to play political kingmaker in 2013, when he supported the coalition government of Enrico Letta.
Berlusconi promoted many of the veline from his television programs to government positions. In 2007, Berlusconi told Mara Carfagna, a velina he had brought into politics, "If I weren't already married, I would marry you right now." Hearing this public declaration, Berlusconi's wife, Veronica Lario, published a letter demanding an apology. After Berlusconi attended an aspiring velina's 18th birthday party in 2009, Lario opted to end the marriage.
Another Berlusconi scandal was the revelation about his "bunga bunga" sex parties. At these parties, women—often wearing costumes—danced and disrobed for Berlusconi and his guests. Berlusconi has stated that the gatherings were nothing more than dinner parties.
Criminal Charges and Convictions
Accusations of criminal misbehavior have followed Berlusconi since his first days in office. He has been charged with embezzlement, tax fraud and bribery. Being in power helped Berlusconi avoid some charges—he passed one law that granted the prime minister immunity while in office (the law was later struck down). Berlusconi was also able to fight other accusations until the statute of limitations ran out.
However, Berlusconi has been convicted multiple times. In October 2012, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years for tax fraud. And in June 2013, Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years for paying an underage woman, Karima "Ruby" el Mahroug, for sex. El Mahrough was 17 when she attended several of Berlusconi's "bunga bunga" parties in 2010. Berlusconi was also convicted of abusing the power of his office (while prime minister, Berlusconi tried to get el Mahrough out of jail by telling police that she was related to Egypt's Hosni Mubarak). Along with this conviction, Berlusconi was barred from public office.
Berlusconi has never admitted to any wrongdoing—he and his supporters feel he is being persecuted by the left—and he continues to fight all of his convictions. Berlusconi will not have to serve a sentence, or step down from public office, during the appeals process. Even if a conviction is upheld, Berlusconi's age makes him eligible for house arrest, so it is unlikely he will ever go to jail.
Berlusconi's Impact on Italy
With his broadcast success and long political career, Berlusconi has changed the worlds of media and politics in Italy. His wealth—in 2013, Forbes magazine estimated Berlusconi and his family's fortune at $6.2 billion—and influence mean he is still a powerful leader. He is also a key political partner in Italy's current coalition government. Despite his multiple scandals, Berlusconi seems poised to continue making his mark on Italy.
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