Just a few highlights from the Wikipedia bio:
Silvio Berlusconi has an extensive record of criminal allegations, including mafia collusion, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Berlusconi has been tried in Italian courts in several cases. In three of these cases accusations were dropped by the judiciary because of laws passed by Berlusconi's parliamentary majority shortening the time limit for prosecution of various offences and making false accounting illegal only if there is a specific damaged party reporting the fact to the authorities.
In all of them, but one, either he was acquitted by a court of first instance or on appeal, or charges were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. Therefore he has not been sentenced up to now, despite having been found guilty of providing false testimony in 1990.
Berlusconi claimed that "this is a manifest judicial persecution, against which I am proud to resist, and the fact that my resistance and sacrifice will give the Italians a more fair and efficient judicial system makes me even more proud", and added that "789 prosecutors and magistrates took an interest in the politician Berlusconi from 1994 to 2006 with the aim of subverting the votes of the Italian people" reeling off statistics that he said have constituted a "calvary including 577 visits by police, 2,500 court hearings and 174 million euros in lawyers' bills paid by me". Berlusconi has always been able to afford top lawyers, for example Nicolas Sarkozy was one of his French top advocates. Some of his former prosecutors later joined the parliamentary opposition. Some of his attorneys are also members of parliament.
Remarks on western civilization and Islam [The comment below was actually true enough, if you just look at the facts. Nevertheless, as you see at the end of the paragraph, he succumbed to pressure and apologized, which was more than he ever did for other of his comments.]
After the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York, Berlusconi said: "We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its value understanding of diversity and tolerance." This declaration caused an uproar, not only in the Arab and Muslim world, but also all around Europe, including Italy. Subsequently Berlusconi told the press: "We are aware of the crucial role of moderate Arab countries... I am sorry that words that have been misunderstood have offended the sensitivity of my Arab and Muslim friends."
Jokes, gestures and blunders
Berlusconi joking with former President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da SilvaIn February 2002, at a European Union summit of foreign ministers, Berlusconi, who was present since the replacement of his previous foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, had not yet been appointed, made a vulgar gesture (the "corna") behind the head of the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Piqué, intimating he was a cuckold during an official photo shoot. This is a common joke among Italian children, but many felt it was utterly out of place in an international meeting. He later explained that he "was just kidding", and was trying to create a relaxed atmosphere, that this sort of meeting was meant to "create friendship, cordiality, fondness and kind relationships" between the participants, and that he wanted to amuse a small group of Boy Scout bystanders.
On 2 July 2003, one day after taking over the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, he was heavily criticised by the German SPD Member of the European Parliament Martin Schulz because of his domestic policy and his alleged links to the Mafia. Berlusconi responded: "Mr Schulz, I know a movie producer in Italy who is making a movie about Nazi concentration camps. I will recommend you for the role of a Kapo. You are perfect for the part!". Responding to the shoutings that then came from the Socialist backbenchers, Berlusconi insisted that he was only joking, but soon after accused Martin Schulz and others leftish MEPs to be "bad-willing tourists of democracy". His comparisons with the Nazis caused a brief cooling of Italy's relationship with Germany.
In 2003, during an interview with Nicholas Farrell , then editor of The Spectator magazine, Berlusconi claimed that Mussolini "had been a benign dictator who did not murder opponents but sent them 'on holiday'".
Kotipizza Pizza Berlusconi.In mid-May 2005, while opening the European Food Safety Authority in Parma (preferred over a Finnish location, after Berlusconi made an assertion of Finns "not knowing what prosciutto is"), Berlusconi claimed that he had to "dust off my playboy skills" with the Finnish president, Tarja Halonen (whose party belongs to the family of the European Socialists, i.e. the main political rival of the European People's Party to which Berlusconi's party belongs), to convince her to locate the EFSA in Parma.
This caused criticism from both Italy and Finland, with the Italian ambassador in Finland being summoned by the Finnish foreign minister. A minister of his cabinet later 'explained' the comment by saying that "anyone who had seen a picture of Halonen must have been aware that he had been joking". Before that, speaking to a group of Wall Street traders, he listed a series of reasons to invest in Italy. The first of them was that "we have the most beautiful secretaries in the world". This resulted in uproar in Italy, where, for a day, female Members of Parliament took part in a cross-party protest. Over the prosciutto comment, the Finnish pizza chain Kotipizza later came back with a new variety of pizza called Pizza Berlusconi, using smoked reindeer as the topping. The pizza won first prize in America's Plate International pizza contest in March 2008.
In March 2006, Berlusconi defended accusations he made that the "Communists used to eat children", by responding with claims that "... read the Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the communist China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields". He later admitted, "It was questionable irony ... because this joke is questionable. But I did not know how to restrain myself." His political opponent Romano Prodi told the press, "The damage caused to Italy by an insult to 1.3 billion people is by all means a considerable one", and that Berlusconi's comments were "unthinkable". Berlusconi replied by gifting 1000 copies of the Black Book of Communism during one of his election rallies.
On 4 April 2006, less than a week before the upcoming political elections in Italy, during a speech given at the National Chamber for Trade, Berlusconi stated that he holds "too high esteem of the Italians' intelligence to think that there are so many coglioni (literally "testicles", a vulgar term whose closest semantic equivalent in English is "assholes", often used against morons or people otherwise considered stupid) around voting against their interest". He later apologised for the "rude but effective language".
At an awards dinner in January 2007, Berlusconi was quoted as saying, "If I wasn't already married, I would marry you right away," and "With you, I'd go anywhere" to Mara Carfagna, a representative of Forza Italia and former showgirl. These flirtatious comments prompted his wife Veronica to demand an apology in a front-page letter to the Italian newspaper la Repubblica, one of Berlusconi's rival publications. In a statement released through his political party, he begged for forgiveness and stated that he would "always protect [Veronica's] dignity." Mara Carfagna is now serving under him as minister for Equal Opportunities.
In the run-up to the 2008 Italian general election, Berlusconi claimed that right-wing female politicians were better looking than their left-wing counterparts. His remarks provoked an angry reaction from Italian centre-left parties, which accused him of being sexist. Berlusconi was quoted as saying that when he looked round Parliament, he found that female politicians from the right were "more beautiful" and that "The left has no taste, even when it comes to women".
During a televised encounter with voters on 10 April 2008 a young woman asked Silvio Berlusconi what the younger generation should do about the lack of secure jobs. He promptly suggested that she try to marry "the son of Berlusconi... with a smile like yours, you could try."
Since the 2008 general election, Berlusconi has already begun to court controversy at European level. He has publicly criticised the current composition of the Council of Ministers of the Spanish Government as being too 'pink' by virtue of the fact that it has (once the President of the Council, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is counted) an equal number of men and women. He also stated that he doubted that such a composition would be possible in Italy given the "prevalence of men" in Italian politics.
At a joint press-conference at Villa La Certosa (17 April 2008) in Sardinia with the Russian president Vladimir Putin, a Russian journalist from Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, Natalia Melikova, put a question to Putin, asking him if he intended divorcing his wife and marrying Alina Kabayeva, an Olympic gold medalist and MP in Russia. When his guest showed annoyance, Berlusconi intervened with a gesture toward the journalist that imitated a gunman shooting.
The journalist was reportedly reduced to tears. Putin denied rumours that he was to marry Kabaeva. A spokesman for Berlusconi tried to play down the shooting gesture. He said: "It was just a gesture, a playful gesture, in fact it was appreciated given the technical time needed for a long and tedious Russian translation." Afterwards, Melikova said: "I saw Berlusconi's gesture and I know he has a reputation as being a joker. I hope there are no consequences.
(Interestingly, according to this Wikipedia bio at any rate, he and George W. Bush are great friends.]
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