Wed, Dec 20, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Berlusconi US$2bn richer while he stages comeback


The tide might be turning for former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

A year ago, the 81-year-old billionaire politician was out of power and locked in battle. Banned from public office after a 2013 conviction for tax fraud, the former four-time Italian prime minister was campaigning against then-Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi’s proposed reforms, while his fortune languished near a five-year low.

Then a fight over control of his broadcaster Mediaset SpA broke out with French billionaire Vincent Bollore.

The struggle spurred investor interest in Mediaset, driving up the share price, and Berlusconi got a further political boost last month when his Forza Italia party won a center-right coalition victory, positioning him for a potential return to power.

With help from a rally in Italian equities, the self-described “most persecuted man in history” has seen his net worth rise 36.9 percent from Nov. 28 last year, when Vivendi’s chief content officer touted the company’s possible alliance with Mediaset as a way for European media companies to compete with US rivals.

Berlusconi, who is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights against the ban on holding office, has seen his net worth rise to US$8.4 billion, the best performance in the period among the five Italians on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 500 richest people.

A spokesman for Berlusconi’s Milan-based investment firm, Fininvest SpA declined to comment on his net worth.

Closely held Fininvest has stakes in media, biotechnology and finance, including his two largest holdings, Mediaset, which had a total return of 43 percent since Nov. 28 last year, and Mediobanca SpA, which rose 62 percent.

Italian equities are up 42 percent in the same period, despite an economy that is still struggling with high unemployment, rising poverty and a strained financial system.

Berlusconi, who sold Italian Serie A soccer team AC Milan to Chinese investors in April for 740 million euros (US$788 million), faces a new trial in February, ahead of Italy’s national elections.

Last month he was indicted for allegedly bribing a witness to give false testimony about allegations he held “bunga bunga” sex parties and hired an underage Moroccan prostitute.

He denies wrongdoing.

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