12 Nov 2011

No more bunga bunga for Silvio Berlusconi?

There have been more obituaries written for Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi over the years than he has had affairs. So how, despite the scandals, did he cling on for so long?

So a new chapter begins in European politics, without the man who mesmerised many – for all the wrong reasons.

The laughter of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy last month at the mere mention of his name perhaps spelt the end. They succeeded where countless Italian politicians, lawyers and feminists have failed.

Bunga Bunga is now forever in the dictionary of Italians.

Silvio Berlusconi’s brazenness never disappointed at those summits of world leaders, keeping Europe’s most important politicians waiting while he took a call, gesticulating his appreciation of the first lady’s assets – and he was not admiring her intellect. Only last week, he was seen to turn for a better look at the Argentinian president’s rear view.

Unreconstructed, offensive, but Berlusconi’s sexual exploits appeared to strike a chord with enough Italians. Bunga bunga is now forever in their dictionary – synonymous with allegations of lavish sex parties with naked dancing girls at his villas, claims of under-age sex with this teenage Moroccan belly-dancer, and allegations he pressured the police to drop a case against her.

Mogul turned politician

Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since Mussolini looked like he enjoyed offending others. He once told German MEP he should play a concentration camp guard in a film.

Like his team, AC Milan, Berlusconi became adept at fancy footwork, sidestepping allegations.

But his friends stuck by him, especially when a free holiday was on offer. The Blairs enjoyed Berlusconi’s hospitality – and were presumably among the first to discover their host had had a hair transplant.

A wily media mogul turned politician, Berlusconi set up his own party just three months before he became prime minister. He still owns nearly half of Italy’s TV channels.

Serious allegations have followed him everywhere, but just like his team, AC Milan, he became adept at fancy footwork, sidestepping allegations, changing the laws to ensure criminal cases ran out of time.

Teflon Silvio

Berlusconi even boasted about the millions he has paid lawyers. Fraud, tax evasion, false accounting, corruption, bribery of judges and police officers – all have been thrown at him, but none have stuck so far.

Berlusconi has long been accused of mafia connections. But when he was hurt two years ago, it was not mob justice – rather, the result of an attack with a statuette of Milan Cathedral by a mentally ill man two years ago.

He survived the assault. Tonight many will feel Berlusconi has got his just deserts. But remember this: he resigns with his fortune intact and remains Italy’s third richest man. But he leaves his country with debts to the tune of £1.5tr.