Berlusconi, Italy's master of self-interest

He still faces three court cases, but the former premier is far from finished.

The irony probably wasn't lost on Silvio Berlusconi on the evening of 8 November when, with bitter reluctance, the tycoon-premier said he would quit in order to halt the disastrous downward slide of Italy's stock market. Mr Berlusconi entered politics 17 years ago to save his business interests – at that time from left-wing politicians who wanted to dismantle them. Three weeks ago he was quitting office for the very same reason; only this time it was the markets that threatened his media empire.

With the speculators singling out Italy, it was Mediaset that felt the force of their attack. The company had already lost 20 per cent of its value in five days, but on 8 November the fall accelerated. A day earlier Mr Berlusconi had met with Fedele Confalonieri, the chairman of Mediaset and his oldest friend, who is widely believed to have told his boss that the game was up for him as Prime Minister – and that by failing to step down immediately, he risked his business empire.

But Mr Berlusconi's decision to step down brings huge legal risks. His instinct to cling on to high office was underpinned by the knowledge that quitting would leave him more vulnerable to Milan's magistrates, who are trying to convict him in three criminal cases.

As head of government he was able to avoid court appearances that clashed with prime ministerial engagements, thereby delaying trials and making it more likely that the statute of limitations, already modified to his own advantage, would kill off at least one case. Similar manoeuvres in the past have seen him beat convictions.

Depending on which source you believe, Mr Berlusconi faces between 20 and 40 court appearances between now and May, in three ongoing trials.

One of those could come today, when he resumes his defence against the charge that he bribed the British lawyer David Mills with $600,000 (£398,000). He also faces the charge of tax fraud relating to his Mediaset empire and – in the most recent and salacious trial – of sex with a minor and abuse of office.

The Mills bribery trial will certainly die under the statute of limitations early next year before the appeals process can begin, although magistrates will be eager to bag a symbolic initial guilty verdict. Nor are prosecutors likely to get a definitive conviction against him in the Mediaset tax fraud trial, which involves complex accounting trails across continents.

Their best bet for a conviction rests with the "Rubygate" sex and corruption trial. In another ironic twist, one of the laws Mr Berlusconi himself passed, which lowers the burden of proof required in such sex cases, may come back to haunt him.

And if all of this weren't enough, the accusations of Mafia association have never been far away. Last week a prosecutor told a Palermo court that one of the mogul's oldest and closest associates, Senator Marcello Dell'Utri, a founding member of Mr Berlusconi's original Forza Italia party, was the intermediary between the former premier and Cosa Nostra bosses.

Even with a definitive conviction, sentencing guidelines mean that Mr Berlusconi, as a septuagenarian, will not go to prison. But he clearly hasn't given up efforts to maintain his political power base in case it can once again strengthen his hand legally.

Even before stepping down, the media mogul reportedly offered his successor as Prime Minister, Mario Monti, the support of his PDL MPs in exchange for guarantees on justice legislation that might work to his advantage. Mr Monti is said to have quickly refused the offer.

Many pundits say it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mr Berlusconi will make a fourth bid for high office. The political scientist Franco Panvoncello, of Rome's John Cabot University, noted that "he's still the only prominent figure that people know and might want to vote for".

Paolo Flores d'Arcais, the editor of the Italian magazine MicroMega, notes that while Mr Berlusconi is no longer premier, "Berlusconismo is far from finished". He says that most of Mr Berlusconi's self-serving legislation remains in place, as does his "monopolistic domination" of Italian television. "Only when this deluge of illegality has been properly dismantled can we claim that the post-Berlusconi era has really begun," he said.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
Arts & Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'
tv
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Sport
Pablo Larrazabal jumps into a pond in Kuala Lumpur to escape a swarm of hornets
videoSpain's Pablo Larrazabal's had a refreshing solution
VIDEO
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Sport
Jonathan Trott will take a second break from cricket after suffering a repeat of the stress-related illness that forced him out of the Ashes tour of Australia
sport
Life & Style
life
Life & Style
fashion
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit