Berlusconi's Highly Touted Announcement on Political Future Delayed

3:32 PM PST 09/17/2013 by Eric J. Lyman
Silvio Berlusconi with daughter Marina

The postponement comes the same day the holding company Berlusconi controls was fined more than $700 million in a 20-year-old media case.

ROME – Italian billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi delayed his highly touted announcement on his future plans Tuesday, the same day an appeals court ordered his family holding company to pay €540 million ($713 million) in connection with the disputed purchase of a major publishing company more than 20 years ago.

Berlusconi announced last week he would use a Tuesday evening television address to announce his future plans and those of the political movement he founded in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold a conviction on tax fraud and false accounting last month.

That ruling -- the first-ever definitive conviction against Berlusconi, which will require him to serve a year of house arrest -- prompted a parliamentary debate over whether or not to strip Berlusconi of his Senate seat. There has been widespread speculation that if his Senate seat is taken, that Berlusconi could instruct his allies to withdraw support for the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, likely forcing Letta to resign.

Now Italy will have to wait at least another day to find out what the founder of the Mediaset television and cinema giant will announce. The latest speculation is that he may back away from threats against the Letta government.

It is believed that if the government collapses, it would damage both Berlusconi’s political support and his business interests. Berlusconi’s 47-year-old daughter, Marina Berlusconi, along with key advisor Gianni Letta (the prime minister’s uncle) have reportedly called for a softer political stance, while Pier Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister’s 44-year-old son, reportedly favors a hard line.

It is not clear whether the postponement was due to the massive fine against the Fininvest holding company or not. Some newspapers speculated it was to avoid the possibility of being upstaged by the high-profile salvage operation of the wrecked cruise ship Costa Concordia off the shore of Tuscany earlier in the day.

The colossal sanctions, among the largest ever levied against a company in Italy for commercial abuses, is related to Fininvest’s acquisition of the Mondadori publishing house, beating out business rival Carlo de Benedetti. Six years ago, a former Berlusconi attorney was convicted of bribing a judge to rule in favor of Berlusconi in the 1990s legal battle between the two business titans.

Twitter: @EricJLyman

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