Backstory: The Legal Troubles of Silvio Berlusconi

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has had legal troubles for years, and now he’s facing several different trials, ranging from underage prostitution to tax fraud. Columbia journalism professor Alexander Stille describes the cases against Berlusconi, how he’s has managed to avoid charges in other cases, and how Berlusconi is dealing with his duties as prime minister.


Alexander Stille

Comments [8]

Jo from USA

^*below Tunisia and above Cuba

Apr. 01 2011 04:54 PM
Jo from USA

Just because theirs corruption everywhere dosen't mean we should throw our arms up and not hold those who are failing accountable for their failures. That's it's own form of coruption, and when the mass acept being uncivilized. Italy is ranked just above Cuba and below Cuba In the un's corruption index see link
Their uncompetive protectionist that rank amoung thrid world countries in treatment of women. Their a prahya state of the Eu that only gets in because of economic GDP. Times are a changing and just like all third world dictators mr.b soft totalitarianism has tried the publics patients for too long.

Apr. 01 2011 04:50 PM
Calls'em... from Fairfax Cty, VA

Lenny, speaking of money, who funded this author's "research?" Who was paying his salary or salaries during the time he researched this book?

Mar. 31 2011 01:58 PM
Calls'em... from Fairfax Cty, VA

Silvio Berlusconi Part 1 of 3

Being a businessman heading varied businesses is hard enough for the toughest of people, but when one imagines handling Prime Ministerial responsibilities as well, it all becomes mind-boggling. Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, apart from leading Italy, is also a real estate developer, owns a television network, has developed commercial TV in various countries, owns a publishing house, and AC Milan - the champion football club.

The early years
Born in a middle class family in Milan in 1936, Silvio’s father was a banker. His father, who rose from the ranks of an ordinary employee and ended up a general manager, had left a deep impact in Silvio’s mind who studied law in the Universita Statale in Milan and graduated with honors (after doing a thesis on the legal aspects of advertising) in the year 1961.

He had a penchant for business right from a very early age which was evident when he worked as a crooner in cruise ships to help finance his law studies. After the war, the construction industry in Italy boomed. Silvio was quick to pounce on this opportunity and in 1969, after borrowing a considerable amount of money, set up Milano2, a prestigious suburb. This consisted of 4000 flats amidst a garden-like setting.

To serve the people in this suburb, he started Telemilano, a cable television station. This was his initial foray into the media industry and paved the way for three more commercial TV channels. At that time, Italian television was monopolized by the state-run TV channel, Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI). Though the channel was the only one which could broadcast nationally, Silvio set up a series of local stations which simultaneously telecast the same programmes. In 1980, he started the Canale 5, and followed it with Italia 1 in 1982 and Rete 4 in 1984.

To manage his ever diversifying and expanding interests, Silvio set up the holding company Fininvest in 1975. Using this, he bought the two other private TV channels – Rete 4 and Italia 1. In 1976, the Italian government eased restrictions on the broadcasting law and this lead to two parties controlling the television waves – the government with its RAI, and Silvio, with his series of local channels. Not contended with his success in Italy, Silvio went on to develop commercial TV in countries like France (La Cinq-1986), Germany (Telefunf – 1987), and Spain (Telecinco – 1989). Now, Fininvest consists of many important companies like Mediolanum (an insurance firm), Medusa (a major film production company), and A.C Milan (a football team) amongst others.

Copyright © 2000-2005 Developed by Ultimate Italy

Mar. 31 2011 01:53 PM
Calls'em... from Fairfax Cty, VA

Silvio Berlusconi Part 2 of 3

Other acquisitions
Ever hungry for success, Silvio diversified into other areas like the print medium by acquiring Panorama, his flagship news weekly. He also took over Mandadori which is a famous publishing house in and outside Italy. In 1986, he bought the AC Milan football club and turned it into a very successful club. There are some who link his political success to this acquisition. His party is named “Forza Italia” which means “Go Italy”. The Italian football supporters had this as their anthem while cheering for their team.

Forza Italia – His foray into politics
In 1993, Silvio formed the Forza Italia. In the early 1990’s, the Italian judiciary decided to clamp down on corruption, and thereby eliminated many old politicos in what was famously referred to as “Operation Clean Hands”. Due to this, the two major political parties, the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party, lost much of its electoral strength. This lead to a situation wherein the upcoming elections at that time, would see the victory of either a coalition of the Democratic party of the Left and its allies, or any other party. Taking advantage of such a situation and also his own stature in the country, Silvio decided to form his party which had a strong focus to defeat communism. Riding on this and also the promise of creating a ‘million’ jobs, he won the 1994 elections and became Prime Minister. He proposed heavy tax cuts for the self-employed and reduced pensions – these measures aimed at encouraging the entrepreneur. This did not go well with the masses that promptly caused a national strike causing the stock market to depreciate by 25% and the national debt to soar. Meanwhile Finivest was embroiled in cases of corruption and Berlusconi himself had to appear at court to testify. Eventually two employees were arrested. Finally the coalition government that he had formed failed when in December of the same year, the Northern League balked citing deviations from the electoral pact. This forced Silvio to resign.

Election victory of 2001
In 2001, Silvio again ran as the leader of the center-right coalition and succeeded in ascending to the post of Prime Minister for the second time as the leader of the “Casa delle Liberta” (House of Freedoms) coalition and this included Alleanza Nazionale, UDC (who were the Christian Democrats), and other parties. Winning 45.4% of votes in the elections to the opposition’s 42.5% sealed Silvio the victory. In an unofficial agreement with the Italians on a TV show (serving as a election campaign), Silvio claimed he had the ability to improve many aspects of life like increasing employment and reducing crime. This was an important step in achieving victory in the elections.

Copyright © 2000-2005 Developed by Ultimate Italy

Mar. 31 2011 01:51 PM
Calls'em from Fairfax Cty, VA

Silvio Berlusconi Part 3 of 3

The Controversies
The controversies that normally surround a person as powerful as Silvio did not spare him either. There was one corruption trial in which he was accused of bribing judges to prevent a rival business house take over a state-run enterprise. Though he dismissed such charges as ‘fantasy’, it left an indelible impression in the minds of the public. The conviction of his personal lawyer Cesare Previti (for bribing a judge during a takeover battle) did not help his stature either. Nearly 66% of the Italians were against the immunity law under which Silvio was exempted from trial till the time he was in office.

There has also been criticism over his choice of Ministers. For example, the health ministry, which was occupied by a famous doctor (Girolama Sirchia), was handed over to Francesco Storace, who had only recently lost regional elections in Latium.

There have also been cases of agitations between the British weekly The Economist, and Mr. Berlusconi. In fact, in one instance, Silvio has taken the weekly to a court in Rome for publishing letters against him.

There are times when Silvio had made controversial statements regarding the fascist Italian ruler Benito Mussolini. Berlusconi described Mussolini as the ‘greatest statesman Italy had ever had’ and also said that his rule ‘had not killed a single person.’ This effectively meant that Silvio was absolving Mussolini’s rule of all the horrors it consisted of including the infamous concentration camps. Though later Silvio defended his statements saying he was just reacting to a comparison between Saddam Hussein and Benito Mussolini, enough damage was done already.

Overall, this man was a hugely successful person, a man who would be both loved and hated by, not only the Italian public, but also by people all over the world. He had to cross many stumbling blocks before he could reach his current position and it was bound to have its own controversies. How he handled all of them with poise and still retain his stature in the public’s eye is what is to be admired most in Silvio.
Copyright © 2000-2005 Developed by Ultimate Italy

Mar. 31 2011 01:50 PM
Calls'em As I Sees'em from Fairfax Cty, VA

Why look to Italy for corruption? Every year including 2011 there are a dozen local NY/NJ elected Democrats or their staff members who are under indictment for bribery, embezzlement to violence against women. Why not cover Democrat Congressman Anthony Weiner's (NY 9th CD B'klyn/Queens) failure to pay thousands of dollars in parking tickets. There should have been a warrant out for his arrest, but he got special treatment. What a surprise.

Mar. 31 2011 01:33 PM
Patrick from Bronx

I have read your books "The Sack of Rome" and "Excellent Cadavers". One visible aspect of affirmative action in Italy is the elevation of women to occupy positions in the judiciary. Now the upcoming trial of Prime Minister Berlusconi concerning the Ruby Case features a panel of three judges - all female. One can only wonder what an all-female panel means for sexual politics in Italy.

Mar. 31 2011 11:05 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.