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Silvio Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi (born September 29, 1936) is currently (2003) the Prime Minister of Italy. Berlusconi is the leader of the Forza Italia[?] political party (self-defined as a movement), and the owner of an Italian media empire. As an entrepreneur, he has interests in a variety of businesses. Forbes Magazine[?] lists him as the wealthiest person in Italy, with an estimated net worth of $7.2 billion (as of 2002).

He became famous in the 1980s for the creation of a private TV network (Fininvest, now Mediaset) of national importance and for other financial companies.

A good friend of former premier Bettino Craxi[?], he has been accused of having used political pull throughout his business career, and of various sorts of corruption, including conflicts of interest. These accusations are dismissed by Berlusconi as political smears.

His name was found in a list of members of a secret masonry lobby ("Loggia P2") suspected of plots.

He became Prime Minister in 1994, but was quickly ousted from office because one of the parties in his majority (Northern League) passed at opposition, moving the majority's weight on the center-leftist side. Therefore, the coalition of opposition parties (now with Northern League) substituted him. Even then he was hounded by allegations of questionable business practices.

In 1996 the ad-interim coalition formed by Northern League and center-leftist was substituted, after new political election, by a center-leftist government (without northern league) lead by Romano Prodi.

In 2001 he again ran for Prime Minister as leader of the center-right Casa delle LibertÓ (House of Freedoms) coalition which includes Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), CCD, Northern League and other parties. He has recently appeared on trial on charges accusing him of bribing judges who had to try important business disputes in which his companies were involved. All those judgements -considered dubious by the prosecutors of Milan- went to his favor. All the accusations he has to face concern facts which happened before he went into politics. The Casa delle LibertÓ was routed in the 2003 local elections.

In June 2003, facing further legal action, he pushed through a controversial law granting himself immunity from prosecution while in office.

On July 1, 2003, Italy assumed the rotating EU presidency, represented by Berlusconi. Many commentators expressed doubts about his suitability for the position. The following day he addressed the European Parliament and set out his plans for the term of the presidency. Upon being criticised by a German member of the parliament Martin Schulz[?] (SPD), he lashed out with the words "Mr. Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of kapo. You'd be perfect." The reference to the Nazis caused an uproar in the 626-seat assembly and a diplomatic crisis between Italy and Germany.

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