Silvio Berlusconi's family investment company, Fininvest, was yesterday ordered to pay €560m (£497m) immediately to a rival media group for corruption in the acquisition of the Mondadori publishing company – a devastating sum and a significant blow to the Italian Prime Minister.
The civil damages award stems from a case in which three Berlusconi associates were convicted of corrupting a judge to overturn a ruling in favour of the industrialist Carlo De Benedetti, who was fighting Fininvest for control of Mondadori in the 1990s. The Milan appellate court, while upholding a 2009 verdict against Fininvest, reduced the damages from €750m.
Mr Berlusconi's daughter Marina, who heads Fininvest, said the "totally unjust verdict" was part of a campaign against her father. "The verdict represents the umpteenth scandalous episode of violent aggression that has gone on for years against my father, by all means and on all fronts, including entrepreneurial and economic," she said. She also complained the award was worth twice Fininvest's share of Mondadori capital.
Mr Berlusconi came under fire last week when he introduced a measure into Italy's austerity budget that would have allowed Fininvest to delay payment until the final appeal. He hastily withdrew the measure under opposition pressure, but even political allies said they were unaware that the measure had been buried in the package.
On Friday, Mr Berlusconi backed Italy's deficit-reduction targets after the markets took fright at fresh signs of government tension and problems for the Economy Minister, Giulio Tremonti, who was caught on film calling one of his ministerial colleagues a "cretin". Mr Tremonti has appeared increasingly isolated in the cabinet, but he remains the minister most trusted by the financial markets to keep control of Italy's badly strained public finances and prevent it being drawn into the market turmoil that has hit countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal.
* In an interview with La Repubblica on Friday, Mr Berlusconi declared that he would not run again when his term of office ends in 2013 and named the 40-year-old Justice Minister, Angelino Alfano, as his successor.