Silvio Berlusconi bows out of Italian politics - but with a promise to appoint an 'heir'

Berlusconi was banned from standing for parliament for six years in August 2013 after being definitively convicted for tax fraud

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Italy’s three-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi appears finally to have thrown in the towel and has said he will anoint a new leader of the Italian centre right.

He has declared he wants to found a new “party of moderates” to replace his disintegrating Forza Italia but has said it will not be led by him – but by “one of his heirs”, of which he has two or three in mind.

The 78-year-old media mogul, who has dominated Italian politics for almost two decades, told a political meeting in Naples that his choice for leader must have “charisma” and “must not use politics for their own advantage”.

Berlusconi was banned from standing for parliament for six years in August 2013 after being definitively convicted for tax fraud. In each of his three terms in office he was regularly accused of altering the penal code to protect himself from criminal charges and to further his business interests.

His daughter Marina, a senior lieutenant in his business empire, has previously been named a possible successor. But she has shown little interest in politics. Berlusconi did not name any possible heirs.

But Matteo Salvini, the head of the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League, which has entered into coalition governments with Berlusconi in the past, attacked the mogul’s assertion that he would choose a new centre-right leader. “I don’t think there’s a blood right,” he said in response to Berlusconi’s announcement that he would pick an heir.

Some observers are predicting that Mr Berlusconi is selling large amounts of company stock in order to have a liquidity pile to influence politics and protect his inheritance from behind the scenes.

His announcement came as Prime Minister Matteo Renzi finally passed a new anti-corruption law which will make false accounting a serious crime again. In 2001, during one of his periods in office, Mr Berlusconi removed it from the penal code. Critics said the move was in order to extricate himself and his associates from legal trouble, but it made life easier for suspected mob bosses in the process.

Justice Minister Andrea Orlando said that the new legislation made it “possible to better attack corruption”.

Meanwhile, pundits have mocked the ex-Prime Minister’s declining political fortunes. Writing in La Repubblica, Enrico Deaglio said that with many of his most senior advisers having defected, Mr Berlusconi’s Rome residence, Palazzo Grazioli, now resembled “a sort of psychiatric hospital with pet therapy supplied by Dudu the dog...” Berlusconi this week posted photographs of himself with his pet on social media sites.