Italy's Berlusconi Retains Honorific 'Cavaliere' Title Despite Problems

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi
 Getty Images

ROME — Despite years of political, legal and personal woes, Italy's billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi can still call himself Il Cavaliere.

"Cavaliere" is an honorific title in Italy, roughly equivalent to being a knight in England. Berlusconi was granted the title in 1977 and it was so attached to him that he was often referred to in Italian news stories as Il Cavaliere — and when he volunteered earlier this year to give up the title after a tax fraud and false accounting conviction last year, the press began calling him ex-Cavaliere.

Turns out they can go back to the original moniker, according to press reports. Corriere della Sera and other Italian newspapers reported Thursday that officially stripping a recipient of the title would require a formal declaration from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, made after a specific request from the Ministry of Economic Development. But that process was never launched.

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Part of the reason, according to the reports, was that previous Minister of Economic Development Flavio Zanon was waiting until the appeal process for Berlusconi's tax fraud and false accounting conviction was complete. And by the time it was, governments changed and the new minister, Federica Guidi, did not make the case a high priority.

There is no word whether the three-time prime minister — who is currently performing community service in connection with the tax fraud and false accounting conviction — will start to use the title again.

In addition to that conviction, 77-year-old Berlusconi is on trial or appealing convictions for conducting illegal wire taps, bribing a public official, abuse of power and paying an underage girl — then-17-year-old erotic dancer Karima el-Mahroug, best known as "Ruby the Heartstealer" — for sex. He has denied wrongdoing in all the cases.

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Meanwhile, Berlusconi is paying about $2 million a month in alimony payments to ex-wife Veronica Lario, and pollsters report that only one out of five Italians still have a positive opinion of him, one of the lowest levels since he became a public figure in the 1980s. Forza Italia, the political party he founded, had an unprecedentedly weak result in last month's elections for European Parliament, and recent reports indicate the party is running out of cash.

Even AC Milan, the top division soccer team Berlusconi owns, is unusually mired in the middle third of the Serie A standings.

But Berlusconi can at least console himself with the fact that he is still Il Cavaliere. That, and the fact that his stake in cinema and television giant Mediaset gives him a net worth of around $9 billion, making him one of the 150 richest people in the world, according to Forbes.

Twitter: @EricJLyman

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