After completing a few successful projects, he constructed a huge apartment complex, called Milano Due, a project that was to bring him into the public limelight for the first time. Controversy over the source of finance for the project has never gone away, but the labyrinthine nature of Berlusconi's business interests have made it impossible for investigators to establish any clear wrongdoing. Milano Due was also notable as the location of Berlusconi's first media venture, Telemilano, a cable TV station set up to service the complex.
Soon after the establishment of Telemilano, Berlusconi bought two other cable channels, relocated the station to central Milan and began broadcasting in ernest. Fininvest, his first media group, was founded in 1978. During the following 5 years, he is reputed to have earned nearly €60 million. Again, the sources of such a huge sum are controversial. Fininvest continued to expand, forming what was, in effect, a private national television network.
This breached the rights enjoyed by RAI, the state broadcaster, to a sole national network and brought Berlusconi again into conflict with the authorities. In 1980, Berlusconi set up the first, official, private television network called Canale 5, buying Italia 1 and Rete 4 to add to his empire soon afterwards.
There followed some years of legal wrangling before Berlusconi's ally, Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, pushed through emergency legistlation allowing the channels to continue broadcasting. However, it was not until 1990 that the state monopoly was finally fully abolished and Berlusconi could broadcast legally.
Berlusconi has developed a wide range of business interests and a large personal fortune of over 6 billion euros in the process, making him one of the wealthiest people in Italy.
His main company, Mediaset accounts for half of the Italian television sector. He also owns Publitalia and Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, which are Italy's leading advertising and publicity agency and Italy's largest publishing house respectively. He is also the founder and largest shareholder of Fininvest, among the ten largest private companies in Italy. He has interests in Mediolanum, one of the country's biggest banking and insurance groups and in two film and home video distribution companies: Medusa Film and Penta Film. He is also the owner of A.C. Milan, one of Italy's most important football teams.
Silvio Berlusconi is the leader of 'Il Popolo della Libertà' (People of Freedom) political party and the current Prime Minister of Italy. He has been Prime Minister on three separate occasions: 1994-1995, 2001-2006 and since 2008. He is the second longest-serving Prime Minister in Italian history and also the longest-serving current leader of a G8 country.
Over the years, Silvio Berlusconi has been accused of many criminal activities including: bribery and corruption, fraud and involvement with the mafia. He claims to have been persecuted by his enemies having been subjected to 577 visits by the police, 2,500 court hearings and 174 million euros in legal fees. It is true that many of his prosecutors are currently members of the parliamentary opposition but it is equally true that many of his defence lawyers are also members of parliament. Despite several cases coming to court, all of the cases have so far proved unsuccessful. He has either been aquitted at the original trial, or on appeal, or the case has been dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. In the later cases, he was helped by a new law passed by his own government, shortening the time limit for prosecutions.
However, in 2013 his luck finally ran out. Having been convicted of tax fraud charges involving his Mediaset empire in October 2012, Italy's Supreme Court slammed the door shut on his final appeal by upholding the conviction in August 2013. It now looks like his original four year prison sentence will be reduced to a year of house arrest.
Karima El-Mahroug (Ruby the Heartstealer)
Meanwhile, in June 2013, he was also convicted of having sex with an underage prostitute, Moroccan dancer, Karima El-Mahroug, also known as 'Ruby the Heart Stealer'.
The scandal, known as 'Rubygate', centred around Berlusconi having paid to have sex with her while she was still 17 years old, a criminal offense in Italy. He was also accused of 'Abuse of Power', having used his political influence to get her released from police custody, claiming that she was related to Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
Although both she and Berlusconi denied the charges, he was still convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. The case is still wading its way through the appeals courts.
Silvio Berlusconi has had, and continues to have, a colourful private life.
Carla Elvira Dall'Oglio & Marina
He has been married twice: first to Carla Elvira Dall'Oglio, with whom he has two children: Maria Elvira, also known as Marina, born in 1966, and Pier Silvio, born in 1969. They divorced in 1985.
Veronica Lario with Silvio Berlusconi
In 1990, he married actress Veronica Lario, with whom he has three children: Barbara, born in 1984; Eleonora, born in 1986 and Luigi, born in 1988.
After numerous reports of affairs and indiscretions, the latest involving 18 year old Noemi Letizia, Lario announced in 2009 that she was to file for divorce.
These events were quickly followed by a number of other lurid revelations about Berlusconi's private life. The most damaging concerned details of private 'Bunga Bunga' parties held at his palatial residences in Milan and Sardinia. Berlusconi described the events as 'Elegant Dinners', but others have drawn a different picture, describing them as nothing more than sex parties involving numerous prostitutes, striptease shows and sexual activities of various kinds. The associated court cases are ongoing...