News / Europe

Self-Made Berlusconi: Power, Pizzaz and Faux-Pas

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi (C) speaks with Justice Minister Roberto Maroni (R) and League North Party leader Umberto Bossi during a finance vote at the parliament in Rome, November 8, 2011
Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi (C) speaks with Justice Minister Roberto Maroni (R) and League North Party leader Umberto Bossi during a finance vote at the parliament in Rome, November 8, 2011

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is no stranger to the spotlight.

The self-made media mogul has been elected prime minister three times, recently telling political supporters Italy had "no alternative" to his leadership, though he also said being prime minister was a "burden that I personally would be glad to be rid of."

Through it all, the 75-year-old Berlusconi has 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.

The man destined to become one of Italy's richest men was born in Milan, Italy on September 29, 1936. He turned to the spotlight early on, earning money by singing in nightclubs and on cruise ships to pay for his education.

After graduating from law school in 1961, Berlusconi entered the construction business. Roughly 10 years later, he founded a cable television station called Telemilano. The station became the start of a vast media empire called Mediaset.  

Mediaset is now part of Berlusconi's Fininvest holding company, which includes several television networks, newspapers, Italy's largest publisher and the football club A.C. Milan.

Berlusconi decided to enter politics and, in 1994, founded the conservative Forza Italia party, ran for Prime Minister and won, forming a coalition with the right-wing National Alliance and Northern League.

Berlusconi's first go-around as prime minister ended quickly - his government collapsed after just seven months, after he was indicted on charges of tax fraud.  

Berlusconi was eventually convicted on those charges but they were later overturned and he ran again in 1996, losing out to the left-leaning Romano Prodi.

Despite the defeat at the polls, Berlusconi refused to give up and was elected prime minister for a second time in 2001. He remained prime minister until 2006, becoming Italy's longest serving prime minister since World War II.

A center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi defeated Mr. Berlusconi in 2006, but Berlusconi was reelected in 2008, following Prodi's resignation.

Throughout his three tenures as prime minister, Berlusconi has been followed by controversy and headlines.

Shortly after his 2006 defeat, he made news by passing out at the podium during a political rally. He was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and later flew to the United States for surgery to implant a pacemaker.

Silvio Berlusconi's reputation for partying with women has also grown since his 2008 election.

In May 2009, his second wife announced she was getting a divorce after he had been photographed at a birthday party for Noemi Letizia, an 18-year-old aspiring model. Berlusconi denied any charges of wrongdoing.

In July, some Italian news organizations said they had audio recordings of Berlusconi talking to an escort, Patrizia D'Addario, who said she was one of several women paid to attend parties at Berlusconi's residence in Rome.

Berlusconi denied the charges but, in his first remarks after the tapes were released, told the public he was "no saint."

Most recently, Berlusconi is awaiting trial for allegedly paying to have sex with underage girls, including a 17-year-old nightclub dancer known as "Ruby." He has denied the accusation.

A November 2010 file photo of a Moroccan girl nicknamed Ruby, who allegedly received payment from PM Berlusconi in return for sex, at a party in a Genoa disco
A November 2010 file photo of a Moroccan girl nicknamed Ruby, who allegedly received payment from PM Berlusconi in return for sex, at a party in a Genoa disco

Ruby, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, denied the two had sex, though she admitted accepting $9,000 to attend a party at the prime minister's home.  

The 75-year-old has also become known for his political gaffes.

Shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama was elected in November 2008, the Italian leader said Obama, who is African American, had a "good tan." And in April 2009, he raised eyebrows during a gathering of world leaders in Germany, after he missed a group photo while talking on his mobile phone.

Earlier that week, Berlusconi agitated Britain's Queen Elizabeth at the G-20 summit in London by loudly calling out to U.S. President Obama.

Berlusconi estimates he has made about 2,500 court appearances during the past 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, dismissing ongoing calls for his resignation.

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.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs