Profile: Silvio Berlusconi, Italian ex-prime minister
Over two decades Silvio Berlusconi has proved himself the master of the political comeback. In February 2013, he showed he had not lost his touch when, at the age of 76, he closed a huge gap to come within 1% of winning a general election.
When he was forced from office in November 2011, after the markets had lost all confidence in his ability to run the country, even his most loyal supporters could see no way back.
Mr Berlusconi said he would not stand for office again. But he could not resist having another go - and did well enough to deny the centre-left a majority in parliament.
Two recent convictions, countless allegations of corruption and sleaze, and numerous outrageous statements have not deterred supporters, many of whom see him as the victim of a left-wing conspiracy.
Silvio Berlusconi is one of Italy's richest men. He and his family have built a fortune estimated at $9bn (£5.6bn) by US business magazine Forbes.
Born on 29 September 1936, Mr Berlusconi began his career by selling vacuum cleaners and built a reputation as a crooner in nightclubs and on cruise ships.
I am without doubt the person who's been the most persecuted in the entire history of the world and the history of man”
He graduated in law in 1961 and then set up Edilnord, a construction company, establishing himself as a residential housing developer around his native Milan.
Ten years later he launched a local cable-television outfit - Telemilano - which would grow into Italy's biggest media empire, Mediaset, controlling the country's three largest private TV stations.
His huge Fininvest holding company now has Mediaset, Italy's largest publishing house Mondadori, the daily newspaper Il Giornale, AC Milan football club and dozens of other companies under its umbrella.Forza Italia
In 1993, Mr Berlusconi founded his own political party, Forza Italia - Go Italy - named after a chant used by AC Milan fans.
The following year he became prime minister, forming a coalition with the right-wing National Alliance and Northern League.
Many hoped his business acumen could help revitalise Italy's economy. They longed for a break with the corruption and instability which had marred Italian politics for a decade.
But rivalries between the three coalition leaders, coupled with Mr Berlusconi's indictment for alleged tax fraud by a Milan court, confounded those hopes and led to the collapse of the government just seven months later.
He lost the 1996 election to the left-wing Romano Prodi but by 2001 he was back in power, in coalition once more with his former partners.
Having headed the longest-serving Italian government since World War II, he was again defeated by Mr Prodi in 2006.
He returned to office in 2008 at the helm of a revamped party, People of Freedom (PDL).
His support drained away in 2011, as the country's borrowing costs rocketed at the height of the eurozone debt crisis, and he resigned after losing his parliamentary majority.
Initially his party supported the technocratic government of Mario Monti, and his reform programme.
But in December 2012, his PDL withdrew its backing, forcing an early election.Legal battles
Mr Berlusconi, a native of Milan, has frequently complained that he is being victimised by the city's legal authorities.
He has been accused of embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting, and attempting to bribe a judge but he has always denied wrongdoing.
In October 2012, however, he was convicted for the first time over his business activities - and was handed a jail sentence in addition to being barred from office after being found guilty of tax fraud.
Silvio Berlusconi's trials
- Accused of having paid for sex with an underage prostitute and of abuse of power for asking police to release her when she was arrested for theft
- Convicted of tax fraud in case focusing on the purchase of the TV rights to US films by his company, Mediaset
- Acquitted in several other cases; Also convicted in several, only to be cleared on appeal; others expired under statute of limitations
The Milan court sentenced him to four years but later cut it to one year because of an amnesty law.
Mr Berlusconi condemned the sentence as "intolerable judicial harassment". He remains free pending appeals.
In March 2013 he was sentenced to a year in jail - again subject to appeal - for involvement in the leaking of a police wiretap to a newspaper run by his brother.
He has in the past either been cleared, or cases have run beyond the judicial time limit. Also, jail sentences for people over 75 can be commuted to house arrest in Italy.
In 2009, Mr Berlusconi estimated that over 20 years he had made 2,500 court appearances in 106 trials, at a legal cost of 200m euros.
His government passed reforms shortening the statute of limitations for fraud, but part of a 2010 law granting him and other senior ministers temporary immunity was struck down by the Constitutional Court, which left the decision up to individual trial judges.
Mr Berlusconi's political struggles have been accompanied by a string of lascivious reports in the Italian press about his private life.
These have culminated in his trial on charges of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute.Berlusconi's women
It emerged in October 2010 that Mr Berlusconi had called a police station asking for the release of a 17-year-old girl, Karima "Ruby" El Mahroug.
She was being held for theft and was also said to have attended Mr Berlusconi's so-called "bunga bunga" parties.
Indicted on charges of having sex with Ms El Mahroug and abusing his powers by putting pressure on police to release her, he appeared in court on 19 October 2012 to deny both accusations.
Other sex scandals have dogged Mr Berlusconi.
In May 2009, his second wife, Veronica Lario, said she was divorcing him after he was photographed at the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model, Noemi Letizia. She also accused him of selecting a "shamelessly trashy" list of candidates for the European parliament.
When they reached a divorce settlement in 2013, it was reported that he had agreed to pay 36m euros (£30m) a year to Ms Lario - though he claimed it was significantly more.
Mr Berlusconi has always maintained he is "no saint" but firmly denies having ever paid for sex with a woman, saying: "I never understood where the satisfaction is when you're missing the pleasure of conquest."
If the tycoon appears younger than his age, it is partly because of a hair transplant and plastic surgery.
But in November 2006, after his election defeat, Mr Berlusconi collapsed at a party rally.
He was later fitted with a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat and said he needed to slow down.
In December 2009, he was assaulted in a street in Milan - hit in the face with a souvenir of Milan cathedral, by a mentally disturbed man. With a bloodied face and broken teeth, he got out of the car into which he had been bundled by security guards, to show his defiance.
That refusal to be defeated remains as strong as ever.