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Silvio Berlusconi

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned Saturday 12 November 2011 after a new budget law was approved in parliament, making way for a transitional government that would try to steer the country out of a potential economic crisis. Berlusconi had been in power for 10 of the past 17 years. On 08 November 2011 it was announced that Itay's beleaguered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was to resign after parliament passed crucial economic reforms on Tuesday aimed at stabilizing Italy's economy. The growing political crisis was spreading across the 17-nation eurozone. Italy's parliament passed the budget bill, a normally routine procedure, by 308 votes in favor. Berlusconi failed to garner a majority, though, and a striking 321 lawmakers did not vote at all. The vote was widely viewed as a test of Berlusconi's survival.

Silvio Berlusconi (born 29 September 1936) is an Italian politician, entrepreneur, real estate and insurance tycoon, bank and media proprietor, and sports team owner. He is the second longest-serving Prime Minister of the Italian Republic (President of the Council of Ministers of Italy), a position he has held on three separate occasions: from 1994 to 1995, from 2001 to 2006 and since 2008. He is the leader of the People of Freedom political movement, a center-right party he founded in 2009, merging Forza Italia, his own party, with Alleanza Nazionale of Gianfranco Fini. His party's victory in the 2008 general elections paved the way for a third mandate in office.

As of January 2009, he was the senior G8 leader, the longest-serving current leader of a G8 country. He is the owner of the Italian football club A.C. Milan. Under his lead, the club has won a number of national and international trophies. With Ennio Doris he founded Mediolanum SpA, one of Italy's biggest banking and insurance groups.

National corruption scandals of the 1990s reinforced the general belief that politicians were corrupt. In one high-level case in December 2004, judges dropped a bribery charge filed in 1999 against Silvio Berlusconi on the grounds that the statue of limitations had expired. The events on which the charge was based occurred in 1991. In January 2004, the Constitutional Court abrogated the 2003 legislation granting immunity from prosecution while in office to the country's five highest-ranking public servants, including the prime minister. In April 2004, magistrates resumed Prime Minister Berlusconi's remaining trial (related to his business activities prior to assuming office) and continued proceedings against his codefendants. In December, Prime Minister Berlusconi was acquitted of one count of bribing a judge (before he became Prime Minister) to block the sale of a food conglomerate to a business rival; the judges dropped another bribery count stating that the statute of limitations had expired. In November 2003, Berlusconi's former lawyer and one-time defense minister was sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment for bribing a judge in 1991; the judge in the case was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment.

Berlusconi's government pursued responsible budgets, conservative fiscal policies and structural reform. With a solid majority in the Parliament, the government is attempting to push through long-overdue labor market, banking, pension and tax reforms. With Italy's left struggling to reorganize after its solid defeat in 2001, Italy's three most powerful unions (CGIL, CISL, and UIL) have emerged as the voice of the left and have protested the government's actions. In an unprecedented split, however, CISL and UIL have pledged to work with Berlusconi's coalition to address liberalization while CGIL continued to voice its opposition from outside the Government.

Italy's three largest labor unions called for a four-hour strike for 24 October 2003 to protest a government plan to reform the country's overburdened public pension system. The decision to strike was made after meeting with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on September 29. Berlusconi's government has agreed on a pension reform plan that includes increasing the mandatory retirement age and raising the required number of years worked to collect a full pension. Starting next year, the government's plan focuses on giving workers incentives to delay their retirement and on shifting money from the nearly bankrupt state pension system into private pension plans. Beginning in 2008, the plan would abolish so-called seniority pensions, which currently allow Italians to retire at age 57 if they have worked 35 years. Italians would be allowed to retire only if they had worked for 40 years or had reached age 60 for women and 65 for men. Italy's public pension system consumes over 12 percent of gross domestic product. It is one of the most expensive in Western Europe and is generally the only source of retirement income. Despite the trade unions' outrage, the plan has been criticized by Italian industrialists and independent economists as not being radical enough. Berlusconi's attempt to scale back Italy's pension system in 1994 resulted in more than a million protesters in the streets and contributed to the fall of his first government.

The government's efforts to sell its 49.9 percent share of Alitalia, the long ailing Italian flag carrier, put the Berlusconi government to an early test on openness to foreign investment and transparency managing the public's money. During the election campaign Berlusconi had declared that the airline should remain Italian, even as Alitalia pursued merger/sale talks with European competitors. Union opposition to those deals and Berlusconi's statements led Air France to withdraw from buy out plans. Once in office, Berlusconi used his personal and political skill to convince a group of Italian businessmen to commit to purchasing the airline and keeping it Italian. He further enticed investors with amendments to the bankruptcy law that permitted Alitalia to split into two companies, one composed of attractive assets that were transferred to the buyers, and another composed of liabilities to be liquidated by the government and, by extension, the Italian taxpayer. But for this provision, worth hundreds of millions of euros, it is unlikely the deal with Italian investors would have been consummated. To survive, however, the airline still needed an international partner. While the new owners sought to sell a minority stake to Air France/KLM or Lufthansa, Berlusconi repeatedly weighed-in, going so far as to recommend commercial agreements with those carriers rather than offering them even a minority stake in Alitalia.

By 2009 Berlusconi was no longer one of several political rivals, but Italy's uncontested master. Since he swept to power for the third time in 2008, opposition melted. In less than a year, the unions split, the main opposition party changed its leader and thanks to the impact of the global economic crisis Berlusconi gained immense powers of patronage over Italy's apprehensive bankers and industrialists.

Berlusconi embarrassed Italy shortly after the election of Barack Obama by hailing him, during a visit to Moscow, as “handsome, young and suntanned”. Two weeks later, at a meeting with Angela Merkel in Trieste, Berlusconi played hide-and-seek and called out “Coo-coo!” from behind a monument to prompt the German Chancellor to turn around. Undoubtedly, Berlusconi offers good press copy with his blunders and jokes.

In April 2009 Berlusconi arrived for the NATO summit in Germany, and was greeted by Chancellor Angela Merkel. He emerged from the limo but signaled Merkel with vigorous hand gestures to wait on the red carpet while he continued a lively conversation on his mobile phone. He later tells the miffed German leader, who waited for some time, that he was talking to the prime minister of Turkey. In May 2009 Berlusconi showed up for the 18th birthday party of a Naples model, Noemi Letizia. Berlusconi's second wife, Veronica Lario, announces that she had launched divorce proceedings against her husband, "who surrounds himself with underage girls." In July 2009 a call girl, Patrizia D'Addario, claimed she was invited to dinner at Berlusconi's private palace in Rome and was paid for it. Berlusconi asserts that he "never paid a woman" but says afterward: "Everyone understands that I am not a saint."

Berlusconi estimated he has made about 2,500 court appearances over two decades, but despite the controversies and a plunging approval ratings - one recent poll estimated his support at 24 percent - he continues to hold onto power. The U.S. magazine Forbes ranks Mr. Berlusconi 21st on its list of the world's most powerful people. It ranks him as 118 on its list of the world's richest people with an estimated net worth of $6.2 billion, as of November 2011.

By mid-2011 there weren growing calls for the Italian leader to step down over sex scandals and Italy's financial problems that threaten to make Europe's third-largest economy the latest victim of the eurozone crisis. Berlusconi's political rivals and allies alike were demanding his resignation. Through it all, the 75-year-old Berlusconi constantly stayed in the headlines both for his triumphs and his gaffes, holding onto power despite ongoing sex scandals, accusations of fraud and tax evasion and declining popularity.

Berlusconi became the latest victim of the euro debt crisis. He was forced to resign November 11, 2011 after a week that saw him lose his majority in parliament. By 2013, although Berlusconi no longer held official government posts, Italy's cross-party coalition, headed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, relied on the support of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.

In May 2013 a Milan court upheld a tax fraud conviction against Berlusconi. That conviction was frozen pending an appeal. Silvio Berlusconi was convicted 24 June 2013 by a Milan court to 7-years jail at the close of a sex-for-hire trial. The judges also barred Italy's ex-premier from holding public office. Berlusconi had two more levels of appeal. A Milan court convicted Berlusconi on charges of paying an underage Moroccan teen for sex in 2010 at infamous "bunga bunga" parties at his villa and then abusing his powers by trying to cover up the encounter with phone calls to Milan police officials. Berlusconi, 76, and Karima El-Mahroug, now 20, had denied having had sex with each other.

An Italian court ruled October 19, 2013 that Berlusconi, convicted of tax fraud, should be barred from holding public office for two years. However, the ruling against Berlusconi — a current senator — would have no immediate effect, until a vote in the upper house of parliament on whether to expel him from the Senate. On November 27, 2013 the Italian Senate expelled Silvio Berlusconi over his tax fraud conviction, drawing a defiant response from the veteran center-right leader who vowed to continue leading his party and fight on outside parliament.

The court sentenced Berlusconi to four years in prison for tax fraud. It later cut the sentence to a year of community service. On 15 April 2014 an Italian court ordered Berlusconi to spend the next year helping the elderly in a church-run nursing home as part of his conviction for tax fraud. Berlusconi will spend four hours a week at the home outside Milan, keeping the residents company and taking them to religious services.

On 11 March 2015 Italy's top court, the Court of Cassation, definitively cleared Silvio Berlusconi of charges that he paid for sex with an underage dancer, fuelling talk of a return to the political limelight for the embattled former premier. This brought to an end the lengthy legal saga which lifted the lid on the sordid "bunga bunga" sex parties the billionaire tycoon organised in his Milan villa. Prosecutor Edoardo Scardaccione told the hearing that Berlusconi's antics had held Italy up to ridicule.

Berlusconi could yet be convicted on charges that he paid off many of the young women who attended his famous soirees in return for false testimony in the Ruby trial. Also outstanding is a charge that he paid a senator three million euros ($4.0 million) in 2006 to join his party and destabilise a center-left government. Past experience suggested the tycoon's lawyers would be able to string out both cases for sufficient time for the charges to be dropped without a judge ever making a ruling.

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Page last modified: 20-03-2015 19:08:57 ZULU