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ROME – Silvio Berlusconi is a free man — at least, romantically speaking.
The 77-year-old Italian billionaire still has a year of house arrest hanging over him, plus three open criminal or civil trials and a variety of legal and political problems. But a court in Monza, near Milan, on Wednesday declared Berlusconi officially divorced from Veronica Lario, the onetime actress and showgirl he married in 1990. Lario first requested the divorce in 2009.
That means Berlusconi is now officially free to marry Francesca Pasquale, an Italian dancer 49 years his junior. They got engaged in 2012.
The financial terms of Lario’s divorce settlement are still pending. A court ordered Berlusconi to pay Lario more than $50 million a year — around $138,000 a day — in alimony. Berlusconi’s lawyers said that sum represented an unfair burden on Berlusconi’s finances. A separate hearing on the amount of the support Berlusconi must provide is pending.
Before the 2012 ruling, the three-time Italian prime minister had been paying Lario €250,000 ($345,000) in support each month.
The founder and controlling shareholder of television and cinema giant Mediaset still faces challenges on multiple legal, personal and political fronts.
Berlusconi faces a year of house arrest in connection with last year’s definitive conviction on tax fraud and false accounting. He was also stripped of his Senate seat and could face a multiyear ban on politics. And he is charged with bribing a political official, conducting illegal wiretaps, and faces charges of abuse of power and paying an underage girl — then-17-year-old erotic dancer Karima el-Mahroug — for sex.
Berlusconi’s Mediaset is one of Europe’s largest integrated media companies, with three national TV networks in Italy and one in Spain, a major cinema production house, and several leading print media businesses.
Despite its founder’s woes, Mediaset has been one of the strongest performers on Milan’s Italian Stock Exchange so far this year. The shares are up nearly 25 percent since the start of the year, and have nearly quadrupled since reaching an all-time low in December 2012. They were trading at €4.24 ($5.81) Wednesday, and analysts predict the coming weeks could see them pierce the €5 threshold, a level they have not reached since 2010.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek