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LOCARNO, Switzerland – Despite a painful series of political, legal and personal setbacks over the last year, Italy’s beleaguered media tycoon and former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, can at least console himself in knowing that he is $1.5 billion richer now than he was a year ago.
Despite the long-lasting economic malaise gripping Italy adding to his political woes, Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index showed that Berlusconi enjoyed a 26 percent rise in his net worth — now estimated at $7.6 billion — in the last year year. Even with the increase, he remains just outside the world’s 100 richest people, and he is just the fourth richest person in Italy, behind chocolate magnate Michele Ferrero, eyewear maker Leonardo del Vecchio, and Paolo Rocca, the head of the country’s largest metals conglomerate. Only del Vecchio has seen his fortune grow faster than Berlusconi’s over the last year.
It’d be tough to find someone on the list who has suffered as trying a year as Berlusconi. Among the highlights:
• Last October, a court found Berlusconi guilty of tax fraud and false accounting, sentencing him to four years in jail and a five-year ban from politics. Berlusconi’s lawyers appealed, and the Supreme Court heard the case in July.
• In December, another court found Berlusconi and his younger brother, Paolo Berlusconi, guilty in a wiretap case connected to the family newspaper Il Giornale. The court sentenced the elder brother to a year behind bars. The verdict is under appeal.
• In the same month, the stock price for Mediaset, the television and cinema giant Berlusconi founded, fell to €1.16 ($1.52) per share, its all-time low. The shares’ all-time high was €27.00 ($35.37) per share in 2000, and they had traded as high as €12.00 ($15.72) six years ago, before the swoon began.
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• Also in December, a court ruled that Berlusconi must pay ex-wife Veronica Lario €36 million ($47.2 million) a year in alimony, a figure that works out to around $130,000 per day.
• In February, Berlusconi’s political comeback fell short, as polls produced a near three-way tie, sparking a two-month political crisis resolved only after Berlusconi’s coalition agreed to take on a junior role in the government of Enrico Letta.
• In June, a court convicted the 76-year-old Berlusconi to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from politics on charges of abuse of power and paying an under-age girl, erotic dancer Karima el-Mahroug, then 17, for sex. The verdict is under appeal.
• Italy’s Supreme Court in July upheld the lower court’s guilty verdict in the false accounting and tax evasion trial, though the jail term was reduced to a year of house arrest. The politics ban was sent back to the lower court to be reconsidered.
Since the verdict, Berlusconi has become a source of ridicule in Italy, with figures ranging from Oscar-winning comic, actor and director Roberto Benigni to opposition lawmaker Guglielmo Epifani taking swipes at the former premier.
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Now reportedly confined to a 27-bedroom villa for the term of his house arrest, and with his political influence on the wane, Berlusconi can at least console himself that he is $1.5 billion richer than he was when the series of events started. Bloomberg reported that the increase was due to strong performances from Mediolanum, the insurance company Berlusconi controls, and Mediaset, which has nearly tripled in price since December’s nadir (the company’s shares traded at €3.41, or $4.47, in mid-day trading on Friday).
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