Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was saddened by the news of Silvio Berlusconi’s death, a “true friend” of his. Silvio Berlusconi, the boastful billionaire media mogul who was Italy’s longest-serving premier despite scandals over his sex-fueled parties and allegations of corruption, died Monday. He was 86.
His friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin put him at odds with Meloni, a staunch supporter of Ukraine. On his 86th birthday, while the war raged, Putin sent Berlusconi best wishes and vodka, and the Italian boasted he returned the favour by sending back Italian wine.
Putin said: “For me, Silvio was a dear person, a true friend. I have always sincerely admired his wisdom, his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions even in the most difficult situations.”
Supporters applauded as his body arrived at his villa outside Milan from the city’s San Raffaele Hospital, where he had been treated for chronic leukemia. A state funeral will be held Wednesday in the city’s Duomo cathedral, according to the Milan Archdiocese.
A onetime cruise ship crooner, Berlusconi used his television networks and immense wealth to launch his long political career, inspiring both loyalty and loathing.
To admirers, the three-time premier was a capable and charismatic statesman who sought to elevate Italy on the world stage. To critics, he was a populist who threatened to undermine democracy by wielding political power as a tool to enrich himself and his businesses.
His Forza Italia political party was a coalition partner with current Premier Giorgia Meloni, a far-right leader who came to power last year, although he held no position in the government.
When former US President Donald Trump launched his political career, many drew comparisons to Berlusconi, noting they both had long business careers, sought to upend the existing political order, and grabbed attention for their over-the-top personalities and lavish lifestyles.
Meloni remembered Berlusconi as “above all as a fighter.”
“He was a man who had never been afraid to defend his beliefs. And it was exactly that courage and determination that made him one of the most influential men in the history of Italy,” Meloni said on Italian TV.
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Former Premier Matteo Renzi recalled Berlusconi’s divisive legacy on Twitter. “Silvio Berlusconi made history in this country. Many loved him, many hated him. All must recognize that his impact on political life, but also economics, sports and television, has been without precedence.”
As Berlusconi aged, some derided his perpetual tan, hair transplants and live-in girlfriends who were decades younger. For many years, however, Berlusconi seemed untouchable despite the personal scandals.
Criminal cases were launched but ended in dismissals when statutes of limitations ran out in Italy’s slow-moving justice system, or he was victorious on appeal. Investigations targeted the tycoon’s steamy so-called “bunga bunga” parties involving young women and minors, or his businesses, which included the soccer team AC Milan, the country’s three biggest private TV networks, magazines and a daily newspaper, and advertising and film companies.
Only one led to a conviction that stuck — a tax fraud case stemming from a sale of movie rights in his business empire. The conviction was upheld in 2013 by Italy’s top criminal court, but he was spared prison because of his age, 76, and was ordered to do community service by assisting Alzheimer’s patients.
He still was stripped of his Senate seat and banned from running or holding public office for six years, under anti-corruption laws.
He stayed at the helm of Forza Italia, the centre-right party he created when he entered politics in the 1990s and named for a soccer cheer, “Let’s go, Italy.” With no groomed successor in sight, voters started to desert it.
He eventually held office again — elected to the European Parliament at age 82 and then last year to the Italian Senate.