Italy crisis: What next for Silvio Berlusconi?

Silvio Berlusconi holds a glass of wine at San Siro stadium in Milan in this September 28, 2008 file photo Mr Berlusconi is likely to remain an influential figure, at least in the short term

He may have resigned as Italy's prime minister, but Silvio Berlusconi will certainly not slip quietly into the shadows.

Hours after leaving the presidential palace to the jeers and boos of protesters, the billionaire businessman - an ex-premier but still an MP - vowed to remain centre-stage.

"To those who cheered for what they called my exit from the political scene, I want to say very clearly that I will double my commitment in parliament to renew Italy's institutions. I don't expect any gratitude, but I won't give up," he said in a video statement released on Sunday.

Although deprived of the political power of government, Mr Berlusconi, 75, remains an influential figure in Italian life, with a business empire spanning media, advertising, insurance, food and construction.

While the eurozone debt crisis gnawed away his parliamentary majority, the subsequent loss of office will likely see Mr Berlusconi focus on trying to revive his political party - and on holding the new government to account.

And a string of ongoing court cases - in which he is variously accused of using an underage prostitute, bribery and fraud and embezzlement - mean he will never be far from the headlines.

Mr Berlusconi, who could face jail if convicted, denies wrongdoing in all of the cases.

Berlusconi in numbers

  • At least 51 votes of confidence (including 14 October vote) in his government since it took power in 2008
  • Three election victories - 1994, 2001 and 2008
  • Two election defeats - 1996 and 2006
  • Four ongoing trials
  • 75 years old
  • $9bn - net worth of Berlusconi and his family (Forbes, 2010)

"Berlusconi is simply not going to fade away," says Gianfranco Pasquino, a professor of political science at the Bologna centre of the Johns Hopkins University.

"He has already told us that he is going to fight to prevent the country sliding into what it is that he sees it sliding into, and he is going to be closely monitoring what the next government does in response to the crisis.

"Of course, he remains an MP and he will be trying to stop the government passing new electoral laws - it is very important to his party to maintain the status quo there, because it is very beneficial.

"And we will likely hear him argue that the technocrats appointed do not have legitimacy and he may seek to obtain from parliament an indication that they will not run for election, or use their time in office to prepare such a run."

'Underage sex'

One practical difficulty stemming from Mr Berlusconi's resignation is that he can no longer cite official government business as a reason for missing hearings in the three trials he faces.

AC Milan Players pose before their Champions League football match between AC Milan and Bate Borisov on October 19, 2011 Could Mr Berlusconi become president of the AC Milan football club, which he owns?

Prosecutors allege Mr Berlusconi paid Moroccan dancer Karima El Mahroug (aka Ruby), 17 at the time, for sex, and later made a call to have her released from a police cell over an unrelated theft charge.

The underage sex charge carries a maximum sentence of three years, while the abuse-of-power accusation is punishable by up to 12 years in prison.

In another case, Mr Berlusconi and other executives at his Mediaset broadcaster are accused of inflating the price paid for acquiring television rights via offshore companies controlled by Mr Berlusconi, in a bid to create illegal slush funds.

That trial resumed in February after Italy's constitutional court lifted Mr Berlusconi's immunity from prosecution.

In a related case, the former PM is accused of fraud and embezzlement over the acquisition of television rights for inflated prices - a preliminary hearing was held in March.

And in a third case, Mr Berlusconi is accused of paying British lawyer David Mills - the estranged husband of British Labour MP Tessa Jowell - a $600,000 (£377,000) bribe in 1997 to give false testimony in court and withhold incriminating details of business dealings.

Start Quote

He will certainly continue to hold some immediate bureaucratic power with the party, but his credibility with the electorate is shot through”

End Quote Dr David Hine Oxford University

Professor Pasquino views the court cases as a distraction which will not ultimately end in the ignominious sight of Italy's former prime minister spending time behind bars.

"Italians are not vengeful," he says. "Berlusconi is a man of 75, there is no way he will go to prison.

"These cases will proceed, probably very slowly, he may be proved guilty in certain aspects, but we will likely see the statute of limitations will kick into effect."

'Steep decline'

Dr David Hine, a tutorial fellow at Oxford University's Department of Politics and International Relations, also suggests Mr Berlusconi is "highly unlikely" to end up in prison.

But he says Mr Berlusconi is likely to find it increasingly difficult to be an influential figure in Italian politics.

"He will certainly continue to hold some immediate bureaucratic power with the party, but his credibility with the electorate is shot through.

"His poll ratings are in steep decline, and while he is still a rich man - although Mediaset's value has also come down - there is only so much you can do with that sort of money."

Meanwhile, there is plenty of speculation over other avenues that Mr Berlusconi might pursue.

His Fininvest holding company has AC Milan under its vast umbrella, and in an interview just before his departure he suggested he might become the president of the football club once again - three years after being forced to give up the role due to a conflict of interests in the wake of his 2008 election win.


More on This Story

Berlusconi's era


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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    "Italians are not vengeful" - the law is not about taking revenge it is about JUSTICE. If in Italy the penalty for bribery, embezzlement, and underage sex is a few days in court, then business as usual there is no hope. Saying "Oops, I got caught" then continuing with the same behaviour, without penalty, is unacceptable in a civilised society.
    Money and power shouldn't exempt you from the law.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    the BBC like to portrait itself as an ethical media, but why have you Mr moderator not permitted so many on this thread are you protecting a bad politician , is that the standards you have set for other politicians or are you seeing yourself as moral keeper for S B only, my comment ( removed ) had no swear words or undue's /blasphemies or nothing that most italians and others in Europe didn't know

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Few Italians will admit this but corruption is a part of our culture, not the government. People with power /wealth corrupt/are corrupted at higher levels but the guy on the street will *when possible* avoid paying taxes or might pay somebody "al nero". Classic example, dentist fee with receipt Euro 300, without receipt Euro 150. This isn't being corrupt here in Italy, its being SMART or "furbi"..

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    So you don't like Berlusconi... what everybody seems to forget is that he isn't a dictator, nor did he carry out a coup to get to power... he was VOTED into parliament by the italian PEOPLE... remember them ? The ones whose rights have been tossed to the wind...

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Sadly, despite the fall of Berlusconi, the Italian government will still be associated with corruption. I doubt he (B) will be sitting quietly in the wings, more likely pulling a few strings and buying a few favours to ensure he and his extraordinary wealth stays out of jail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I think is what awaits Berlusconi is the continuation of the before interrupted corruption criminal prosecution and, possibly, I hope, a term in prison. That would be a very good lesson for all and a step on Italy's way to becoming a true democracy, not a sham one. Berlusconi outstripped even former Soviet ruler Brezhnev in terms of his time in office and the number of corruption allegations.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Re # 11, I couldn't care less about B's wealth; this was a man who abused his power to safeguard his own economic interests. His crass comments and jaw-dropping arrogance made Italy a laughing stock. "Proof of his quality"? This is a man who assumed he had carte-blanche to govern as he wished and it took the current disastrous state of affairs for his majority to close ranks and squeeze him out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Stereotypically, in the US, Italians are supposed to be colorful; Berlusconi simply reenforced that stereotype. And, he had a rather interesting political life, as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I do believe that the anti-Berlusconi guys do not judge him by merits but only envy his wealth and political position. I like him and I hope that he will be OK. The simple fact that he traded his PM position for the passing of anti-crisis laws is a proof of his quality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I beleive that history will be very kind to Silvio Berlusconi. He has offered Italians the kind of political longevity that had previously been denied them. He modernized the country's bereaucracy, changed the electoral laws to allow parliament to show at least some bipolarity and, for most of his term, gave the Republic sound finances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Berlusconi was an incredibly bad PM, but sadly, the problem is deeper than his leadership, or Italy's debt. “Profligacy is not the problem. Solving the euro-zone mess means understanding the nature of its ills. And by insisting it is just about budget deficits, too many Europeans show they don’t.”
    The problem is a monetary union without fiscal union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I like the style of BBC. Despite this it's really hard to understand Italy for those not born here and for those who do not live here. Difficult to understand that there is no left in Italy but a group of person who under the pretext of defending the workers make their own economic interests.
    Should be the duty of the journalist to explain this but I realize that it is very difficult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    After some of the American presidents I've seen in my lifetime I wouldn't cast the first stone at Italy over Mr. Berlusconi but I bet their editorial cartoonists are going to miss him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I can only hope that Italy will recover from his legacy; hopefully the new prime minister will focus on the problems and recovery of the country and not young girls and the advancement of his own business interests...

    its rather sad that it took this long to eject this particular jester from the court of Italian politics...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Although in no way connected to Italy, I must admit that Berlusconi did add a lot of colour to Italian politics (not that it isn't colourful enough!) I couldn't wait to see what his latest gaffe was, so I am going to miss the blighter. On the other hand Italy needs to get serious now. Enough of the buffoonery.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    And as an Italian resident in the UK my comment is that last night I have finally grabbed those bottles of champagne I stored for quite some time...

    Mussolini's period was pretty much impossible to beat as the worst ever, considering the mess of the war, but Berlusconi's era is definitely the second worst one after Mussolini' question about that!


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