Italian right-of-centre politician, prime minister 1994–95, 2001–06, and 2008–11. One of Italy's wealthiest men, he built up the profitable Fininvest business empire, which included ownership of the country's leading commercial television stations and newspapers. After coming to power in 1994, he was forced to resign in January 1995, after allegations of corruption in his business dealings, and received a 16-month prison sentence for bribery in December 1995. He returned to power in June 2001, heading another right-wing coalition, but was again dogged by financial scandals and he lost power in May 2006. He regained power in May 2008, but his government faced a deteriorating economy and growing budget deficit, amid the global financial crisis. Plagued by further scandals in his private and business life, he faced court trials in 2011, finally resigning as prime minister in November 2011, ahead of a parliamentary no-confidence vote. His successor, Mario Monti, headed a government of technocrats which sought to clear up the financial mess. Berlusconi became increasingly critical of Monti's economy strategy and in December 2012 his People of Freedom coalition withdrew its support. This precipitated a general election in February 2013, the outcome of which was a new broad-based Berlusconi-backed government, with one of his former advisors, Enrico Letta, as prime minister.
In August 2013, the court of final appeal convicted Berlusconi of tax fraud in the 1990s. But, because Berlusconi was aged over 70, he was exempted from direct imprisonment and required to do community service instead. He was expelled from the Senate and banned from public office for six years, but remained leader of the Forza Italia party, which he refounded in November 2013. In June 2013, he was also found guilty of paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl, but he launched an appeal against this verdict.
Born in Milan, Berlusconi rapidly established himself as one of Italy's leading entrepreneurs, moving from housing development in Milan into radio and television, films, and cinemas. He acquired one of the country's most successful football teams, AC Milan, in 1986 and Italy's largest department store, La Standa, in 1988.
He moved into politics in 1994 at a time when Italy's conventional parties had been weakened by an ‘Operation Clean Hands’ drive against corruption. His Milan-based Forza Italia party won power, after the spring 1994 general election, as part of a right-wing coalition with the right-wing Northern League, whose aim is to separate the prosperous north of Italy from the poorer south, and the National Alliance, successors to Benito Mussolini's fascist party. In April 1996, he led (unsuccessfully) the centre-right Freedom Pole coalition in the general election.
Voters were attracted by his populist ‘can-do’ attitude and charisma, which gave him the nickname Il Cavaliere (the Cavalier).
In February 1998 he was cleared of tax evasion, and in June 2000 was cleared of bribing judges in 1985 to fix the sale of a state-owned food group. In October 2001, Italy's final appeals court cleared Berlusconi of any involvement in the bribing of tax inspectors dealing with three companies in his Fininvest group. However, the court found several Fininvest managers guilty for their role in the bribery.
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Capital: Rome Area: 301,340 sq km Population: 60,221,211 ('09) Official language: Italian Political system: multiparty republic ...