Italy's Berlusconi Engaged to Woman 49 Years His Junior, Now Feels 'Less Lonely'

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

His political comeback, which aims to make him prime minister again after next year's elections, remains on track.

ROME – Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s billionaire media mogul who is working on a political comeback in hopes of returning to the prime minister’s office next year, said Sunday he is now engaged to a Neapolitan woman nearly 50 years his junior.

The 76-year-old Berlusconi, who resigned as Italy’s head of government 13 months ago, is as well known for his exploits with young women as for the Mediaset television and cinema giant he owns or for his three tenures as Italy’s prime minister.

His second wife, Veronica Lario, filed for divorce in 2008, citing his taste for underage women as the central reason. Berlusconi coined the term “bunga bunga” for alleged sex parties at his expansive villa on the island of Sardinia, and he is on trial for paying a then-17-year-old exotic dancer named Karima el-Mahroug, but who is best known by her stage name, Ruby the Heart Stealer, for sex.

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None of that appears to worry Francesca Pascale, the 27-year-old Neapolitan woman Berlusconi announced his engagement to on Domenica Live, a popular program on Canale 5, one of the networks part of Berlusconi’s Mediaset empire.

Opposition figures quickly called the announcement part of a pre-election strategy to remake his image, but Berlusconi said the engagement was true love. Berlusconi said he “feels less lonely” since meeting Pascale, and he boasted she had strong family values and was “beautiful on the outside and even more beautiful on the inside.”

The news is just the latest reason Berlusconi has made headlines lately. He announced in early December he would run for prime minister again, just days after a Senate walkout by his allies nearly caused the current technocrat government, led by Mario Monti, to collapse. In October, he was sentenced to four years in jail for tax evasion, and he remains on trial for paying an underage girl -- el-Mahroug -- for sex and for abuse of power.

In fact, el-Mahroug made her own headlines last week after she disappeared before she was expected to testify in the trial. She resurfaced in Mexico on vacation; her lawyer said she would not return to Italy until January, causing delays in the trial, which is unlikely to conclude before elections tentatively scheduled to take place in February.

Meanwhile, Berlusconi’s Mediaset continues to struggle. The company -- which includes three national networks in Italy, one in Spain, the Medusa cinema production and distribution house, the country’s largest ad buyer, and several print media -- has been operating in the red all year. Mediaset’s stock price set new all-time lows last month but they have since rebounded slightly.