Silvio Berlusconi's Woes Continue as Mogul Loses 'Knight' Title

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Silvio Berlusconi

The billionaire media tycoon, fighting legal battles on multiple fronts, renounced the "il Cavaliere" title before it could be taken from him.

ROME -- Many Italians refer to former prime minister and billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi simply as "il Cavaliere" -- Italian for "The Knight," an honorary title first given to him in 1977. But as of this week il Cavaliere is no more.

Berlusconi, who will soon start serving a one-year sentence for tax fraud and false accounting, "auto-suspended" himself from the Federation of Knights ahead of a meeting where it was speculated he might be stripped of the title anyway. The title, officially a "Knight of Labor," is an Italian honorific that carries substantial prestige but no real power or responsibility.

"Even when he was prime minister, many people referred to Berlusconi as 'il Caviliere,'" said Franco Pavoncello, president of Rome's John Cabot University and a frequent commentator on political affairs. "Now he will have to get used to being Mr. Berlusconi."

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The decision to voluntarily renounce the title comes on the heels of a decision from Italy's highest appeals court confirming a two-year ban on public office for Berlusconi in connection to the tax fraud and false accounting sentence. As a result of that conviction, he was also stripped of his seat in Italy's Senate and ordered to serve a year of house arrest or community service -- he'll find out which next month.

In addition to that case, Berlusconi is appealing a seven-year sentence for abuse of power and paying an underage girl, cabaret dancer Karima el-Mahroug (aka "Ruby the Heartstealer"), for sex. He has also been charged with bribing a member of parliament and using illegal wiretaps. Berlusconi claims innocence across the board and says he is the victim of politically motivated activist judges.

According to Forbes, Berlusconi is the sixth-richest person in Italy, with media holdings that include three national television networks in Italy and one in Spain, the Medusa film production and distribution house, and several print media outlets.

Twitter: @EricJLyman