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Berlusconi signs over £70m villa in divorce deal

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who was accused by his estranged wife Veronica Lario of "consorting with minors", has agreed to hand over the keys to a £70m villa in order to avoid a messy divorce battle, it has emerged.

News of the deal came after a five-hour face-to-face meeting between the couple in Milan at the weekend, after which the lawyers of both sides said they were "satisfied". Ms Lario, 53, a former actress, is said to be extremely attached to Villa Belvedere in Macherio near Milan, where she lives with their three children.

In return for the property, valued at around €78m, Ms Lario is prepared to accept a greatly reduced monthly payment, according to Italian newspapers. She had asked for €3.5m a month when the two sides met in January. But Mr Berlusconi, whose fortune has been estimated at £7bn, refused, saying he was prepared to pay at most €300,000 a month. That meeting lasted only 20 minutes.

It now appears that following a deal on the Villa Belvedere, the financial agreement is much nearer the original offer made by the Prime Minister than that demanded by his estranged wife.

Ms Lario, who has been married to the 73-year-old media mogul for 19 years and together with him for a total of 30 years, announced she wanted a divorce in May last year, following reports of his extramarital dalliances.

The final straw appeared to be the revelation that Mr Berlusconi had attended the 18th birthday party last year of the doe-eyed aspiring underwear model Noemi Letizia, who referred to him as "Daddy".

The stakes were raised last November, when Ms Lario's side let it be known that she was on the verge of filing for a separazione con addebito – the first official step towards a divorce in which she would claim that her husband was to blame for the failed marriage.

This would have led to a potentially dangerous courtroom battle, which the Prime Minister wanted to avoid, fearing that Ms Lario's lawyers would dwell mercilessly on the nature of his numerous relationships with young starlets and call girls, and add considerably to his legal headaches.

Mr Berlusconi is currently facing criminal charges in two corruption trials, and has recently been called to stand trial in a third one.