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Silvio Berlusconi

This article is reproduced on 2006-03-02 – without doubt Berlusconi is a fascinating man but as John Monks, the most respected General Secretary of the British TUC, remarked concerning Tony Blair’s (UK Prime Minister) friendship with Berlusconi: it was ‘bloody stupid’.

Similar might be said about Tessa Jowell’s husband David Mills association. Some say that Berlusconi epitomises a ‘re-branded mafia’ – a godfather of the 21st century -- others believe that David Mills is a Berlusconi ‘made man’
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See also:

Tessa Jowell is Guilty
P2 -Propaganda Due


Silvio Berlusconi 33rd Prime Minister
Nationality Italian
Term of office 27 April 1994 —22 December 1994
11 June 2001 – present
Deputy Prime Minister

Predecessor first time: Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
second time: Giuliano Amato
Successor Incumbent
Born September 29, 1936
Milan, Italy
Political party Forza Italia
Constituency
Spouse Veronica Lario


Portait of Italian Premier Silvio BerlusconiSilvio Berlusconi (born September 29, 1936) is the current Prime Minister of Italy. He is the leader of the Forza Italia political movement, a party which he officially announced in January 1994, to run for the first time in the general election in March of the same year.

Berlusconi served as Prime Minister for a short term (seven months) in 1994. In 2001, he was appointed to the office again; the second Berlusconi government is the longest-lasting in Italy's republican history. On April 20, 2005, Berlusconi tendered the resignation of his government, after his party reported large losses in regional elections. The resignation was also due to internal problems in his coalition. On April 23, 2005, he formed a new government, bringing only minor changes with respect to the previous one.

He is the founder and the first shareholder of Fininvest, a large Italian company dealing with media and financial business. According to Forbes Magazine, Silvio Berlusconi is Italy's richest person, a self-made man with personal assets worth $12,000,000,000 (USD) in 2005, making him the world's 25th richest person.

Between 1986 and 2004, he was also the President of the A.C. Milan, an italian football top team. After his dictated-by-law resignation, the team didn't however elect a new president. He is still the first shareholder of the team.

Early years
Milano 2
Vittorio Mangano
Fininvest
Current Assets
Political career
"Going down onto the field"
The debate about the motives
The 1994 Electoral Victory
Fall of the Berlusconi I administration
Electoral Victory of 2001
Subsequent elections
The Berlusconi III Cabinet
Policies
Legislative actions
Controversies
Statements about Mussolini
Arguments for Illegal Jobs
The Economist
Influence on the media
Conflicts of interests
Sense of humour
Legal investigations of Berlusconi
Dilatory tactics
Member of Propaganda Due masonry lodge
Entrepreneurial career, Bettino Craxi & Mafia
Trials
Personality


Early years

Berlusconi was born in an upper middle-class family in Milan; his father Luigi worked at a small bank, Banca Rasini, of which he became general manager in the 1960s before retiring. Silvio was the first of three children, the others being Maria Antonietta Berlusconi (born 1943) and Paolo Berlusconi (born 1949), now both entrepreneurs. Silvio takes a special pride that his father started his career in Banca Rasini as an employee and left as general manager. Palermo judges indicated Banca Rasini among those that were used for mafia money laundering, according to an interview of Michele Sindona by Nick Tosches.

After completing his secondary school education at a Salesian college, which he worked his way through as a singing waiter, he then studied law at the Università Statale in Milan, graduating cum laude with a thesis on the legal aspects of advertising in 1961. Berlusconi did not serve the standard one-year stint in the army which was compulsory at the time.



Business career


Berlusconi and Bettino Craxi
Silvio Berlusconi with Bettino Craxi, the Prime Minister of Italy at the time.

Milano 2

Berlusconi's business career began in the building construction business in the 1960s. His first entry into the media world was in 1973 by means of a cable television station, Telemilano, designed to service his Milano 2 residential development.


Vittorio Mangano

In 1974 Berlusconi moves with his family into Villa Casati, in Milan. Marcello Dell'Utri, a close Berlusconi's friend and coworker, brought in this Villa the young Mafia boss Vittorio Mangano, from Palermo (Sicily). Officially Mangano was hired by Berlusconi as stable keeper, but he also took care of the Villa's security and took sometimes Berlusconi's children to school. Berlusconi kept Mangano as an employee despite his criminal record dating back to the 1960s, and never dismissed him even when, during his time as employee in the Villa, he was imprisoned because of convictions, and suspected of arranging the kidnapping of a friend of Berlusconi. Mangano left spontaneously in late 1976, concerned about Berlusconi's reputation, since many newspapers started making a scandal about his relationship to him. Berlusconi later stated that he was absolutely unaware of who Mangano really was when he hired him.




Fininvest

In 1978 Berlusconi formed his first media group, Fininvest, that in five years, till 1983, was going to earn 113 billion lire (the equivalent of about 260 milion euro at 1997 value). The funding sources are still unknown, because of the complex system of holding companies that makes them impossible to be determined. Among the banks that helped in this funds transfer was the above mentioned Banca Rasini.

Fininvest was to expand to a country wide network of local TV stations which would all broadcast the same materials, forming, in effect, a single national station. This was illegal at the time, since Italian law reserved the monopoly of national TV broadcasting to the public television. In 1980 he founded Italy's first private national network Canale 5, shortly followed by Italia 1 bought from the Rusconi family (1982) and Rete 4 (1984) bought from Mondadori. A strong help to his successful effort to create the first and only Italian commercial TV empire is due to his link with Bettino Craxi, at that time secretary-general of Italian Socialist Party and prime minister of Italy. In 1986, Berlusconi tried also to expand in France with his channel La Cinq, but the project failed and he had to leave in 1990. For many years, the three italian TV channels owned by Berlusconi were not allowed to broadcast news and political commentary, yet they formed the main alternative to the three State-owned channels Rai Uno, Rai Due and Rai Tre. Only in the 1990s was the government monopoly on information ended.

In 1995, Berlusconi sold a portion of his media holdings, first to the German media group Kirch (now bankrupt) and then by public trading. In 1999 Berlusconi expanded again in the media business in a partnership with Kirch called the Epsilon MediaGroup.




Current Assets
Berlusconi's main group, called Mediaset, comprises three national television channels, which hold approximately half the national viewing audience; and Publitalia, the leading Italian advertising and publicity agency; Berlusconi also owns Arnoldo Mondadori, the largest Italian publishing house, whose publications include Panorama, one of the most popular news magazine in Italy; he has interests in cinema and home video distribution firms (Medusa and Penta), insurance and banking (Mediolanum) and a variety of other activities. His brother controls Il Giornale, and his wife Il Foglio, both centre-right newspapers: they are widely regarded as heavily pro-Berlusconi biased publications. The latter has such dismaying sells that observators have argued that it is mantained alive by Berlusconi only for that reason.
Berlusconi also owns the football club AC Milan, which some think has been an important factor in the success of his political career ("Forza Italia" means "Go Italy!", and before the party was founded it was connected to football supporters of the national team).




Political career

"Going down onto the field"

In the early 1990s, the two largest Italian majority Parties, the Christian Democrats (Democrazia Cristiana) and the Socialist Party (Partito Socialista Italiano) lost much of their electoral strength due to a large number of judicial accusations of corruption for their foremost members (see the Mani Pulite affair). This led to the expectation that elections would be won by the Democratic Party of the Left (Partito Democratico della Sinistra), (the former Communist Party and the main opposition party) and their allies of the Progressive coalition, unless there was a strong alternative: Berlusconi publicly announced on January 26th 1994 his decision to enter politics ("Going down onto the field", in his words) on a platform centered on the defeat of communism. This because just couple of weeks before he decided to enter into politics, the Mani Pulite affair was very close to issuing warrants for him and the chief executives of his group.




The debate about the motives

One of the most debated matters about Berlusconi has been about the true reasons Berlusconi entered into politics.

Some critics argued that Berlusconi did it to take care of his own interests, being saving his own companies from bankruptcy and himself from convictions. According to journalist Marco Travaglio, Berlusconi «never hid it to anybody. Since the beginning he said it clearly to his fellows (and also to Biagi and to Montanelli): If I don't enter politics, I'm going to jail and into bankruptcy»

Instead, Berlusconi's supporters hailed him as the "new man" that was to bring the public bureaucracy to new efficiency and to reform the state from top to bottom; they argued that he was so rich that he would have no interest in using politics to become even richer, and regarding his trials they also argued that just after Berlusconi entered into politics, his opponents tried to get rid of him by a judicial persecution.

While investigating these matters, three journalists mentioned these facts:

Mediobanca's annual report about the 10 biggest Italian companies, showed that in 1992 Berlusconi's media and fincance group Fininvest had about 7140 billion lire of debts, while its net worth amounted to 'just' 1053. Furthermore, the creditor banks started asking for their money back and the advertising income stopped growing after the big increases of the previous years.
Between 1992 and 1993, Fininvest encountered several judicial investigations by Milan, Turin and Rome prosecutors. They regarded: alleged bribes (to political parties and public officers in the aim of getting contracts), alleged fake invoices of Publitalia, political congress financing and television frequencies.




The 1994 Electoral Victory

Berlusconi founded Forza Italia only two months before the 1994 elections; he formed two separate electoral alliances, with the Northern League in northern-Italian colleges, and with post-fascist National Alliance in the center and south; in a pragmatic move, he did not ally with the latter in the North, as the League disliked them: Forza Italia was then allied with two parties that were not allied with each other.

Berlusconi launched a massive campaign of electoral advertisements on his three TV networks. He subsequently won the elections, with Forza Italia ranking first party with 21% of popular vote. One of the most clamorous promises he did to win was "one million jobs more". He was appointed Prime Minister in 1994, but his term in office was short because of the inherent contradictions in his coalition, between the League, a regional party with a strong electoral base in northern Italy, which was at that time oscillating between federalist and separatist positions, and National Alliance, a nationalist party which only then started dropping references to fascist ideology and symbols.


Fall of the Berlusconi I administration

In December 1994, the Northern League left the coalition claiming that the electoral pact had not been respected, forcing Berlusconi to resign from office and moving the majority's weight to the centre-left side. The League also resented for many of his parlament member had switched to Forza Italia, allegedly called by promises of more prestigious charges. A coalition of opposition parties (including the League itself) then replaced him. In 1996, the ad-interim coalition formed by Northern League and centre-left was replaced, after a new election, by a centre-leftist government (without the League) led by Romano Prodi.

Silvio Berlusconi, Romano Prodi, António Vitorino and Jan Peter Balkenende.
Silvio Berlusconi, Romano Prodi, António Vitorino and Jan Peter Balkenende.


Electoral Victory of 2001

In 2001 Berlusconi again ran as leader of the centre-right coalition Casa delle Libertà (House of Freedoms) which included Alleanza Nazionale, UDC (Christian Democrats), Lega Nord and other parties. Despite during the "interregnum" some members of the League had defined him "a traitor" and even hinted to his mafia allegiance accuses, this time the alliance with the northern party was tighter than the first one. Berlusconi's success in this election led to him becoming Prime Minister once more, with the coalition receiving 45.4% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies (Italian's Lower House), and 42.5% for the Senate-House (Italian's Upper House).

In a TV show during the electoral campaign, Berlusconi signed the so called Contratto con gli Italiani (agreement with Italians), that was likely a key step to achieve the victory. In this unofficial agreement, Berlusconi claimed he could improve several aspects of Italian economy and life, including lowering taxes, increasing employment, building up new public works, increasing retirement rents and strangling crime.

Opposition parties have always asserted that Berlusconi was not able to achieve the goals he claimed in Contratto con gli Italiani. Alleanza Nazionale and UDC (Berlusconi's allied parties) also asserted that the Government did not manage to respect the promises in the agreement. According to them, Berlusconi's failure was due to the the unfavourable economical condition that Italy was living. In particular, the Italian GDP grew very slowly during Berlusconi's Government, and the public debt rose quickly. On the other hand, Berlusconi himself has always claimed he achieved all the goals of the agreement, and said his Government provided un miracolo continuo (a continuous miracle).


Subsequent elections

Casa delle Libertà has done less well in the 2003 local elections in comparison with the 2001 national elections, and, in common with many other European governing groups, in the 2004 elections of the European Parliament, gaining 43.37% support. Forza Italia's support also reduced from 29.5% to 21.0% (in the 1999 European elections Forza Italia had 25.2%). As an outcome of these results the other coalition parties, whose electoral results were more satisfactory, asked Berlusconi and Forza Italia for more influence in the government's political line.


The Berlusconi III Cabinet

In the last local elections (April 3 and April 4, 2005), the opposition The Union (formerly known as Olive Tree) won easily 12 of 14 regions where there was a vote; Berlusconi's coalition held in only two regions (Lombardy and Veneto). Two parties (UDC and NPSI) left the Berlusconi government. Berlusconi thus presented to the President of the Republic the dissolution of his government on April 20, 2005, after much hesitation. On April 23 he formed a new government with the same allies, but with some changes in the ministers and in the program. A key point required by UDC (and to a minor extent by AN) was to reduce the focus on tax reduction the government had had, because this was considered incompatible with Italy's financial situation.
There have been harsh criticisms on Berlusconi's choices: the ministry of Health, previously occupied by Girolamo Sirchia, a famous doctor, has been given to Francesco Storace, who, only a few weeks earlier, lost the regional elections in Latium. Another controversial move was the nomination of Giulio Tremonti as Vice-Prime Minister. Tremonti had been the Minister of Economy just few years earlier, but was forced to resign. He is strongly supported by the Northern League, but opposed by UDC and AN.




Policies

As he founded his Forza Italia party and entered politics, Berlusconi expressed support for "freedom, the individual, family, enterprise, Italian tradition, Christian tradition and love for weaker people". Forza Italia could be considered a liberal party on economical issues, although references to liberalism were more common in the initial years of the party development than they are now; some consider Forza Italia a populist party. However, Forza Italia officially joined the European People's Party in 1999, theoretically choosing to be identified mainly as a Christian Democratic party. Internal democracy in the party is very low and internal dissent virtually non-existent. There are no known factions or currents; at present three party conventions have been held, all of them resolved to support Berlusconi, and his re-election by acclamation. Every man in the party apparatus is appointed by Berlusconi himself: for all these reasons, its political opponents call Forza Italia "the plastic party".

Some allies of Berlusconi, especially Lega Nord (Northern League) push for a strong control of immigration and getting their support has required some changes in policies from Berlusconi. Berlusconi himself has shown some reluctance to pursue such policies as strongly as his allies might like. Even so, a number of measures have been taken, but the effects are controversial. The government, after introducing a controversial immigration law (the "Bossi-Fini", from the names of Lega Nord and Alleanza Nazionale leaders) is searching for the cooperation of both European and other Mediterranean countries to face the emergency of the large number of immigrants trying to reach Italian coasts on old and overloaded ferries and fishing boats, risking (and, often, losing) their life.

The Berlusconi government has had a strong tendency to support American foreign policies despite the policy divide between the U.S. and many other founding members of European Union (Germany, France, Belgium), a break from the traditional Italian foreign policy. Italy, with Berlusconi in office, became a substantial ally to the United States of America in 2003 as Berlusconi supported the American/British-led Iraq War to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Berlusconi, in his meetings with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. President George W. Bush, said that he pushed for "a clear turnaround in the Iraqi situation" and for a quick hand-over of sovereignty to the government chosen by the U.N. Italy has some 2,700 troops deployed in Southern Iraq, the third largest contingent there after the American and British forces.

The government confirms the agenda to reduce taxes and simplify the taxation system for both privates and enterprises (Berlusconi himself engaged personally during his electoral campaign). The opposition claims these programs are not realistic in the present economic trend. The EU Commission also pushes for a strict budget control, to meet the European mandatory standards. It must be noted the Italian State has historically a large debt (at the present time 106% of GDP) whose cost heavily burdens the annual budgets.

A key point of the government program is the planned reform of the Constitution, an issue the coalition parties themselves initially had significantly different opinions about, with Lega Nord insisting on the federal reform (devolution of more power to the Regions) as the condition itself for remaining in the coalition; Alleanza Nazionale pushing for the so-called "strong premiership" (more powers to the executive), meant as a counterweight to the federal reform, to preserve the State unity; UDC asking for an electoral law not damaging small parties (more proportional) and being generally more willing to find a compromise with the moderate wing of the opposition. Difficulties in arranging a mediation caused some internal unrest in the Berlusconi government in 2003, but then they were mostly overcome and the law (comprising power devolution to the regions, Federal Senate, "strong premiership" and to be complemented with a new electoral law) was passed by the Senate in April 2004; it was slightly modified by the Chamber of Deputies in October 2004,and again on October 2005 and has finally been approved by the Senate on November 16, 2005 by 170 to 132 votes (and three abstentations). The opposition Union coalition is currently trying to amass 500,000 signatures in order to call a referendum in which they are "confident" that the "Italian people will reject it."


Silvio Berlusconi meeting with Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas
Silvio Berlusconi meeting with Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas



Legislative actions

Berlusconi's government passed many pieces of legislation, among which:

The reform of the labour system.
The reform of the school system. 

The law on large public works (MOSE project saving city of Venice, High speed railways Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples and Turin-Verona-Venice, Bridge between Sicily and Italy, underground in Rome, Parma, Naples, Turin, Milan, a strong modernisation of Highways and Water structures in South of Italy, project "Highways on the sea", etc. )

Abolition of Donation and succession taxes on high income (these taxes had already been abolished for low- and medium- income taxpayers by the previous government)
The abolition of compulsory military service for all male Italians (the armed forces now composed only of volunteers since 2004, anticipating the deadline set in a law passed by the previous government)

The Urbani decree, named after the Ministro per i beni e le attività culturali Giuliano Urbani, punishing whoever circulates, even via file sharing software, a film or other copyrighted material or part of it, or enjoys it with the same technology, with a 1,500 € fine, the confiscation of the instruments and the material, and the publication of the measure on a national daily paper and a periodical about shows. The decree was later modified by the parliament to include only copyright violation for the purpose of profit, where "profit" also includes the savings due to not buying the software. Interestingly enough, Gabriella Carlucci, the member of parliament who presented the case for this law in the lower house of parliament, stated that she couldn't be expected to read all the text of the law.

Also, well-known (because regulating aspects of every-day life) legislative acts were:
The reform of rules regarding drivers' licenses, which (according to the Italian police department) led to a 14.5% decrease in car accidents, or an 18.5% decrease of lethal car accidents. This law was actually a small modification of a law approved by the parliament in the previous term, and which was going to be applied soon anyway.

The increase in taxation on blank data storage devices — this was required by a European Union directive, but the fee in Italy is much higher than in most other EU countries, so that many people now buy them abroad.

The anti-smoke campaign with the prohibition of smoking in offices, pubs, restaurants and other public places, which came into effect in January 2005, and has already caused a reduction of the number of smokers of about 10%.

The law regulating artificial insemination, banning research on embryonic stem cells, pre-implant diagnosis and insemination by donors other than the husband, forcing women to being implanted after the embryo creation even in case of genetic diseases, recognising the embryo as a human rights bearer. The abrogation of the most controversial items has been the object of an unsuccessful popular referendum called in June 2005 by former allies such as the Italian Radicals, together with some (but not all) parties of L'Unione.

In a controversial move, the Berlusconi government also passed a new media reform legislation. Among other things, such legislation increased the maximum limit on an individual's share of the media market, allowing Berlusconi to retain control of his three national TV channels (one of which was still using a frequency which by law should have gone to another channel). The legislation also enabled the roll-out of digital television and internet based publishing, and hence his government claimed it resolved the problem of conflict of interest and his media monopoly "by opening up more channels". The law was initially vetoed by the President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, on charges of being anti-constitutional, but it was then forced into law by the Parliament.

A less known law made the so called "Articolo 41 bis" punitive jail regime for mafia leaders a permanent provision. Under previous law, it had to be confirmed every two years.
The new pensions' law, issued on July 2004, raised the minimum age for retirement and added incentives for delayed retirement.

Berlusconi has forced through the Parliament an overall constitutional reform to deepen the current federal form of the State and strengthen the power of the Prime Minister. This reform is disputed, because it has been imposed only by repressing the former separatist party Lega Nord, and without an adequate sharing with the opposition. Many experts of constitutional law think it is fraught with potential disfunctionalities. As of January 2006, the reform has been approved by the Parliament and a referendum called by the opposition is pending.
In October 2005, Berlusconi forced a reform of electoral law. The First Pass the Post system is abolished, even if it was voted by the people in the referendum of 1993 and even if a referendum to strengthen the system failed because the needed quorum was not reached in 1999 for a few voters.


Other pieces of legislation included:

• the depenalization of fake account statements;

• the suspension of trials against the highest authorities during their terms (this law was later declared unconstitutional);

• a much shorter statute of limitation for white-collar crimes, coupled with an increase in sanctions for repeated offenders.

The opposition argued that this law was designed to save a close friend of Berlusconi, Cesare Previti, from corruption charges; however, after modifications by the parliament, Previti was excluded by the benefits of this law.

In the last few days of the term, his parliament majority is approving many controversial laws, sometimes caching some into unrelated ones. For example, a bill about the Winter Olympics also included controversial provisions tightening penalties for drugs use and peddling.

One of the last bills was a penal code reform forbidding prosecutors to appeal against acquittals (defendants could still appeal, though). This law was not signed by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi for being clearly anti-constitutional, since the constitution of Italy provides for equal rights for prosecutors and defendants. The law will have to go through both houses of parliament again.


Controversies

Because of his P2 membership, his central role in the last decade of Italian politics, his personal fortune, his involvement in the media structure of Italy, and also because of his extroverted personality, Silvio Berlusconi has often been at the centre of major controversies.


Statements about Mussolini

On one occasion, Berlusconi claimed that Benito Mussolini had been the greatest statesman in Italian history. On another occasion, Berlusconi stated that "Benito Mussolini's regime hadn't killed a single person" and that Mussolini "just used to send opposers on holiday", thus apparently denying or dismissing a long series of fascist crimes, from the murder of Giacomo Matteotti to the infamous fascist concentration camps (Rab, Gonars, etc). Berlusconi later claimed that he did not mean to white-wash Mussolini, that he only reacted to a comparison, which he felt unfair, between the fascist dictator and Saddam Hussein.

Alessandra Mussolini, grand daughter of Benito, was until 2003 a member of Alleanza Nazionale and so she supported Berlusconi's coalition. On that year she left it to form her own competing party, opposing 'Casa delle Libertà' in the 2004 elections for the European Parliament and the 2005 local elections. Berlusconi said he was trying to do his best to keep her in his coalition. It seems he succeded, because for the 2006 elections she announced that her party will join again 'Casa delle Libertà'.


Arguments for Illegal Jobs

In December 2002, Berlusconi astonished observers when he suggested that laid-off FIAT workers should take illegal non-tax-paying jobs to make ends meet.


The Economist

One of Berlusconi's strongest critics in the media outside Italy is the British weekly The Economist (nicknamed by Berlusconi "The Ecommunist"). The war of words between Berlusconi and the Economist has been infamous and widely reported, with Berlusconi taking the publication to court in Rome and The Economist publishing open letters against him.
In any event, according to The Economist, Berlusconi, in his position as prime minister of Italy, now has effective control of 90% of all national television broadcasting. This figure includes stations he owns directly as well as those he has indirect control of through his position as Prime Minister and his ability to influence the choice of the management bodies of these stations.


Influence on the media

Berlusconi's extensive control of the media has been linked to claims that Italy's media shows limited freedom of expression. The Freedom of the Press 2004 Global Survey, an annual study issued by the American organization Freedom House, downgraded Italy's ranking from 'Free' to 'Partly Free' on the basis of Berlusconi's influence over RAI, a ranking which, in "Western Europe" was shared only with Turkey (2005). Reporters Without Borders states that in 2004, "The conflict of interests involving prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his vast media empire was still not resolved and continued to threaten news diversity".In April 2004, the International Federation of Journalists joined the criticism, objecting to the passage of a law vetoed by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 2003, which critics believe is designed to protect Berlusconi's alleged 90% control of national media.

Berlusconi's influence over RAI became evident when in Sofia, Bulgaria he expressed his views on the journalists Enzo Biagi, Michele Santoro, and comedian Daniele Luttazzi after his satiric behaviour and his interview with journalist Marco Travaglio. The four have never appeared in any TV shows since then. Left-wing politicians and media refer to this episode as the Sofia Diktat.

The TV broadcasting of a satirical program called Raiot was censored in November 2003 after the comedienne, Sabina Guzzanti, made outspoken criticism of the Berlusconi media empire. Mediaset, one of Berlusconi's companies, sued the Italian state broadcasting company RAI because of the Guzzanti show asking for 20 million Euros for "damages" and from November 2003 she was forced to appear only in theatres around Italy.

In response to such claims, Mediaset, Berlusconi's television group, has stated that it uses the same criteria as the public (state-owned) television RAI in assigning a proper visibility to all the most important political parties and movements (the so-called 'Par Condicio'). It is also true that while the distribution of newspapers in Italy is lower than most other European countries (100 copies per 1000 individuals compared to 500 per 1000 in Scandinavian countries), the majority of national press, which includes the three largest Italian printed dailies, La Repubblica, Il Corriere della Sera and La Stampa, tends to report independently of the Berlusconi government or (in the case of La Repubblica) to be very openly critical of it. Yet the resignations of the director of Corriere della Sera, Ferruccio de Bortoli, were seen as a grasp for more media control from the government. In fact the FNSI, the Trade Union for Italian Journalists, organized a three day long strike to show support to the former director of the newspaper.


Conflicts of interests

The conflict-of-interest issues can be better understood in the context of the structure of control of the state media. The law delegated the presidents of the Chamber and Deputies to elect the president of RAI and the board of directors. In practice the decision is a political one, which generally results in some opposition representatives becoming directors, but with a majority in the hands of the government candidates; typical numbers used to be two directors and the president for the parliamentary majority, and two directors for the opposition. There is also a parliamentary supervisory commission, where the president is customarily a member of the opposition. During the Baldassarre presidency of RAI, the two opposition directors and the one closer to UDC left for internal disagreements, usually centered on censorship issues. RAI continued to be run by a two-man team (mockingly nicknamed by the opposition i giapponesi, "the Japanese" after the Japanese soldiers that kept fighting in the Pacific ocean after the end of World War II).

The italian Left coalition has been often criticized for not approving a low to regulate the conflict of interest between media ownership and holding political officies, despite they had ruled over Italy for several years before 2001. In the early 90s, Berlusconi Media group was close to bankruptcy, also because of the competition with the public broadcaster RAI. Berlusconi said to his fellows that the only way out was to make a deal with RAI to end competition (that is to make a cartel), lower costs and quality of programs, and fix audience share to about 45% for both. In 2002, Luciano Violante, a prominent member of the Left, said in a speech in Parliament:
«Onorevole Anedda, la invito a consultare l’onorevole Berlusconi perché lui sa per certo che gli è stata data la garanzia piena, non adesso, nel 1994, quando ci fu il cambio di governo - che non sarebbero state toccate le televisioni. Lo sa lui e lo sa l’onorevole Letta».(Luciano Violante, Chamber of Deputies of Italy, February 28, 2002)

Authors of book Inciucio claim that sentence to be an evidence that the Left make a deal with Berlusconi in 1994, promising to not respect a sentence of the Constitutional Court of Italy that required to assign to someone else one of the three tv frequencies used by Belusconi media group, in order to enforce pluralism and competition; according to the authors this would be an explanation of why the Left, despite of having won the 1996 elections, did't approve a law to solve the conflicts of interests between media ownership and potical career.

Controversy concerning Berlusconi's conflicts of interest are normally centered around the use of his media and marketing power for political gain; however, there is also controversy regarding financial gains. When RAI was being run by a 2-man team appointed by the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate (both in Berlusconi's coalition), the state broadcaster lost a significant market share to the rival Mediaset group, owned and run by the Berlusconi family, which has led to large personal gain. Berlusconi has many financial interests, and it is inevitable that a lot of legislation can have a direct financial impact on his fortune. His government has passed some laws that have shortened statutory terms for tax fraud. Berlusconi responded to critics by saying that he would not take advantage of these himself, but later he did. Critics claim that this situation indicates that laws about conflict of interest and anti-trust are in practice completely ineffective. Berlusconi himself claims to have resolved his conflict of interest: for example, he cites the fact that he is neither longer president of Mediaset, nor 100% owner.



Sense of humour

His sense of humour is perceived to be somewhat coarse, and could be thought to be purposely targeted at the average Italian, if Berlusconi had not been a known figure already before entering politics.

On April 4 2000, from his electoral ship, he tells a controversial joke about AIDS.

A man with AIDS meets his doctor and asks him: "Doctor, what can I do for my illness?". The doctor answers: "Have a mud bath". "But doc, will that really do me any good?" "Not really, but you'll get used to being buried".


Berlusconi making the corna at Josep Piqué.
Berlusconi makes the Corna gesture behind the head of  Spanish Minister Josep Piqué. The gesture indicates that the subject was a cuckoldIn February 2002, at a European Union summit of foreign ministers, Berlusconi, present since the replacement of his previous foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, had not yet been appointed, made a vulgar gesture (the "corna") behind the head of the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Piqué, indicating he (Piqué) was a cuckold, exactly at the time of the taking of the official pictures. This is a common joke among Italian pre-teens, and many felt it was utterly out of place in an international meeting. He later explained that he "was joking", and he meant to create a relaxed climate, that this sort of meeting were meant to "create friendship, cordiality, simpatia and kind relationships" between the participants, and that he wanted to amuse a small group of Boy Scout bystanders.

On July 2, 2003, one day after taking over the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, he was heavily criticised by the German Member of the European Parliament Martin Schulz (from the SPD) because of his domestic policy. Berlusconi replied:

"Mister Schulz, I know a movie-producer in Italy that is making a movie about Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you to play the role of a Kapo (concentration-camp inmate appointed as supervisor). You are perfect!"

Even though Berlusconi insisted that he was only "joking", his comparisons with the Nazis caused a brief diplomatic rift between Italy and Germany.

In mid-May 2005, while opening the European Food Safety Authority in Parma (after the location had previously been preferred over one in Finland and Berlusconi had accused Finns of "not knowing what prosciutto is"), Berlusconi claimed that he had to "blow away the dust from my playboy (in English) arts" with the Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, to convince her to locate the EFSA in Parma.

This caused criticism from both Italy and Finland, with the Italian ambassador in Finland being called by the Finnish foreign minister. Berlusconi later 'retracted' the comment by saying that anyone who had seen a picture of Halonen must have been aware that he had been joking.

Before that, speaking to a group of Wall Street traders he listed a series of reasons to invest in Italy, the first of them being that "we have the most beautiful secretaries in the world". This resulted in an uproar back home, where for a day female deputies in Parliament took part in a cross-party protest.

Sexist jokes are considered bad taste in Nordic countries: however, they are part of a macho image in Italy, and are therefore more easily accepted, although far from being classy.



Legal investigations of Berlusconi

Dilatory tactics
Silvio Berlusconi undoubtedly has a rather long record of judicial trials, as several crimes have been alleged to him or his firms (see also the following subsection on Berlusconi's trials), including false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Some of Berlusconi's close collaborators, friends and firm managers have been found guilty of related crimes, notably his younger brother, Paolo, who in 2002 accepted to pay 52 million euros as a plea bargain to local authorities for various charges including corruption and undue appropriation. However, no definitive conviction sentence has ever been issued on Silvio Berlusconi himself for any of the trials which have concluded so far; in some cases he has been fully acquitted of the alleged charges, in others he has been acquitted with dubitative formula (not proven), or he was acquitted because the statute of limitations expired before a definitive sentence could be issued; in one case a previously granted amnesty extinguished the crime (perjury) before the sentence came into effect. The Italian legal system allows the statute of limitations to continue to run during the course of the trial. Consequently, the dilatory tactics adopted by Berlusconi's attorneys (including repeated motions for change of venue) served to nullify the pending charges.




Member of Propaganda Due masonry lodge

Some of the suspects on Berlusconi's person arise from real or perceived blank spots in his past. Notably, in 1981 a scandal arose on the discovery by the police of Licio Gelli's secret freemasonry lodge (Propaganda Due, or P2) aiming to move the Italian political system in an authoritarian direction to oppose communism. A list of names was found of adherents of P2, which included members of the secret services and some prominent personalities from the political, industrial, military and press elite, among which Silvio Berlusconi, who was just starting to gain popularity as the founder and owner of "Canale 5" TV network. The P2 lodge was dissolved by the Italian parliament in December 1981 and a law was passed declaring similar organizations illegal, but no specific crimes were alleged to individual members of P2. Berlusconi later (1989) sued for libel three journalists who had written an article hinting at his involvement in financial crimes and in this occasion he declared in court that he had joined the P2 lodge "only a very short time before the scandal broke" and "he had not even paid the entry fee". Such statements, however, conflicted with the findings of the parliamentary commission appointed to investigate the lodge's activity, with material evidence, and even with previous testimony of Berlusconi, all of which showing that he had actually been a member of P2 since 1978 and had indeed paid a 100,000 Italian liras entry fee. Because of this a court of appeal condemned him for perjury in 1990, but the crime was extinguished by the previous 1989 amnesty so he was never actually convicted.




Entrepreneurial career, Bettino Craxi & Mafia

Berlusconi's career as an entrepreneur is also often questioned by his detractors. The allegations made against him generally include suspects about the extremely fast increase of his activity as a construction entrepreneur in years 1961-63, hinting at the possibility that in those years he received money from unknown and possibly illegal sources. These accusations are regarded by Berlusconi and his supporters as empty slander, trying to undermine Berlusconi's reputation of a self-made man. Frequently cited by opponents are also events dating to the 1980s, including supposed "favor exchanges" between Berlusconi and the former prime minister Bettino Craxi, indicted in 1990-91 for various corruption charges; and even possible connections to the Italian Mafia, the latter accusations arising mostly from the above mentioned hiring of Vittorio Mangano. Berlusconi acknowledges a personal friendship only to Craxi, and of course denies any ties to the Mafia. Heated debate on this issue was recently (2004) triggered again when Marcello Dell'Utri, the manager (later managing director) of Berlusconi`s publishing company Publitalia 80 and a Forza Italia senator and long time friend of Berlusconi, was sentenced to 9 years by the Palermo court on charge of "external association to the Mafia", a sentence on which Berlusconi refused to comment.

On some occasions, which raised a strong upheaval in the Italian political opposition, laws passed by the Berlusconi administration have effectively delayed ongoing trials on him, allowing the statute of limitations to expire, or stopped them entirely. Relevant examples are the law reducing punishment for all cases of false accounting; the new law on international rogatories, which made his Swiss bank records unusable in court against him; the law on legitimate suspicion, which allowed defendants to request their cases to be moved to another court if they believe that the local judges are biased against them; and most importantly the lodo Maccanico law, passed in June 2003, which granted the highest five state officers, including the Prime Minister, immunity from prosecution while in office. This law froze Berlusconi's position in the SME-Ariosto trial in which he was accused of having corrupted judges in previous legal rulings regarding his partecipation in the public auction of the state-owned food company SME in the 1980s. However, the trial was not frozen for other defendants, and the former lawyer of Berlusconi's main firm (Fininvest) and former Italian defence minister, Cesare Previti, was sentenced to 5 years although the crime was reduced from corruption of judges to simple corruption. In January 2004 the Lodo Maccanico was nullified by the Constitutional court as it was ruled to be in conflict with the Italian constitution. Subsequently Berlusconi has declared his intent to re-introduce the law using the correct procedure for constitutional modification. Because of these legislative acts, political opponents accuse Berlusconi of passing ad personam laws, to protect himself from legal charges; Berlusconi and his allies, on the other hand, maintain that such laws are consistent with everyone's right to a rapid and just trial, and with the principle of presumption of innocence (garantismo); furthermore, they claim that Berlusconi is subject to a judiciary persecution, a political witch hunt orchestrated by politicized (left-wing) judges.

For such reasons, Berlusconi and his government have an ongoing quarrel with the Italian judiciary, which reached its peak in 2003 when Berlusconi commented to a foreign journalist that judges are "mentally disturbed" and "anthropologically different from the rest of the human race", remarks that he later claimed he meant to be directed to specific judges only, and of a humorous nature. More seriously, the Berlusconi administration has long been planning a judiciary reform intended to limit the arbitrariness allowed to the judges in their decisions (for example by introducing civil liability on the consequences of their sentences), but which, according to its critics, will instead limit the magistrature's independence, by de facto subjecting the judiciary to the executive's control. This reform has met almost unanimous dissent from the Italian judges and, after three years of debate and struggle, was passed by the Italian parliament in December 2004, but was immediately vetoed by the Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who said some of the passed laws were "clearly unconstitutional". Presently (February 2005) the law is in process of being re-examined by the parliament, taking into account the President's objections on its constitutionality.

Berlusconi has also been indicted in Spain for charges of tax fraud and violation of anti-trust laws regarding the private TV network Telecinco, but his status as a member of the European Parliament allowed him to gain immunity from prosecution.



Trials

Completed processes

False testimony on Propaganda 2

In 1990 Berlusconi was declared guilty of perjury by the appeal court of Venice for false testimony on his affiliation to the freemason lodge "Propaganda 2", commonly known as "P2"; however the court did not proceed to a punishment sentence because the crime had been extinguished by the 1989 amnesty. This is the only guilty verdict he has suffered so far.


Bribing a member of the Financial Police (corruption)

First Court: sentenced to jail (2 years and 9 months) for four bribes.

Appeal court: the statute of limitations expired for three of the charges, an acquitted was given on the fourth with dubitative formula.


All Iberian 1 (illegally financing a political party)

First Court: sentenced to jail (2 years and 4 months) for paying 21 billion lire (about 10 million Euro) to Bettino Craxi via an offshore bank account codenamed "All Iberian".

Appeal Court: the statute of limitations expired before the appeal was completed so Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted.


Medusa Cinema (false accounting)

First Court: sentenced to jail (16 months) for false accounting of 10 billion Lire (about 5 million Euro) in some of Silvio Berlusconi's bank accounts.

Appeal Court: acquitted on the charge with dubitative formula (not proven) .


Lodo Mondadori (corrupting a judge)

Appeal Court: statute of limitations expired before the appeal was completed so Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted.

All Iberian 2 (false accounting)

First Court: Berlusconi was acquitted on September 26, 2005 because the new law on false accounting makes false accounting legal if there is no specific damaged party reporting the fact to the authorities. This new law was passed by Berlusconi's coalition after the beginning of the trial, and was claimed by the opposition to be an ad personam law, i.e. aimed at acquitting Berlusconi.

Trials running as at September 2004

Macherio estates (embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting)

First Court: acquitted for embezzlement and tax fraud, the statute of limitations expired before a verdict was reached on the two cases of false accounting.

Appeal Court: acquitted for embezzlement, tax fraud and the first case of false accounting; statute of limitations expired for the second.

Lentini affair (false accounting / 5 millions Euro paid secretly to Torino football club for buying the player Luigi Lentini)

First court: The statute of limitations expired for the charge.

Appeal court: still running.


Fininvest media group consolidated (false accounting / 750 million Euro of illegal (black) funds stored by Fininvest in 64 offshore companies)

The statute of limitations expired due to the new laws on false accounting recently approved by Berlusconi's government.


SME-Ariosto (corrupting a judge)

At its outset, the trial SME-Ariosto involved both Cesare Previti and Silvio Berlusconi. Subsequently the Italian government approved a new law, the so called "Lodo Maccanico" (also known as "Lodo Schifani"). This law gives immunity to the five highest officers of the state (premier, president of the Republic, Senate's president, Deputy Chamber's president, Constitutional Court's president). To avoid complete suspension of the trial, the Court of Milan split it into two parts, one regarding Cesare Previti, the other Silvio Berlusconi. The Cesare Previti part of the trial resulted in a guilty verdict. The other part (regarding Silvio Berlusconi) did not prove the Italian Prime Minister's innocence but the case had to close because of the statute of limitations. Recently, the Constitutional Court declared that the "Lodo Maccanico" violates articles n. 3 and 34 of the Italian Constitution (Sentence n. 120, 2004).


SME-Ariosto (false accounting)

Trial suspended: the European Court of Justice is examining the new Italian laws about social crimes (see trial on All Iberian 2 above).



Personality
Berlusconi and the 1953 page about Stalin's death.

Berlusconi and the 1953 page about Stalin's death.

Berlusconi is admired by some Italians for his tremendous success as a businessman; they praise what they consider his innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. His detractors, however, point out that he tends to centralize power upon his person, and this is reflected in the organization of the Forza Italia party. Furthermore, critics often attribute a substantial part of his financial successes to his closeness to politicians that have been later exposed as corrupt (as Bettino Craxi) or even contiguous to the Mafia. Another criticism voiced is that he over-reacts to attacks from political opponents. Just about everyone agrees that he cares a great deal about his appearance; in January, 2004, after intense speculation in the media, he admitted he had a facelift.

It is known that Silvio Berlusconi has a very high opinion of himself, at times comparing himself to Napoleon, Churchill and Jesus Christ.

Berlusconi always tries to maintain a gentle, agreeable character with whomever he is talking to. His opponents perceive this as hypocrisy, since he can also deliver strong speeches that at times border on hate, especially when talking about communists. He is known to tell jokes to create a relaxed atmosphere, and trying to make sure everybody enjoys himself in his presence.

He is especially careful about talking in intelligible Italian, though with a light Milanese accent, while some politicians prior to 1992 talked an incomprehensible jargon.

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