Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Silvio Berlusconi: Italy's Prime Minister

Silvio Berlusconi: Italy's Prime MinisterTuesday, a judge ordered Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial on prostitution and abuse of power charges.

He's accused of paying for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan girl, and then covering it up. Prostitution is a crime in Italy when the prostitute is under 18.

Berlusconi, 74, will appear before a three-judge panel of all women on April 6, when the trial begins.

This is not Berlusconi's first public misstep. We've rounded up a few of his more memorable scandals through the years:

July 2009: Audio recordings said to be between Berlusconi and escort Patrizia D'Addario surfaced. D'Addario claimed she was paid to attend parties at Berlusconi's Rome estate.

May 2009: Berlusconi's second wife said she would divorce him, after photographs of him at the 18th birthday party of aspiring model Noemi Letizia surfaced.

April 8, 2009: Two days after the biggest Italian earthquake in 30 years left about 17,000 people homeless, Berlusconi said that those displaced by the disaster should see their temporary tent housing as a "camping trip."

March 3, 2009, and Sept. 28, 2009: Berlusconi made questionable comments about U.S. President Barack Obama's race. In March of 2009, he said his approach to the global economic crisis was different than Obama's because he's "paler" than Obama. In 2008, he awkwardly praised the American president, calling him "handsome, young and also suntanned." At another meeting with Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Berlusconi said of the president and his wife, "You won't believe it, but the two of them sunbathe together because the wife is also tanned."

March 8, 2006: Berlusconi offended the most populous nation in the world when he said of China, "Read the black book of communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilize the fields."

July 7, 2003: Berlusconi said a German politician who criticized him should star as a "Nazi concentration camp guard" in a movie.

Sept. 24, 2003: During a visit to the New York Stock Exchange, Berlusconi said, "Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries."

Sept. 26, 2001: Just after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Berlusconi implied that Western culture was superior to Islamic culture when he said: "We should be conscious of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in the Islamic countries."

As a politician, Berlusconi has weathered just about every storm he's managed to create. But his current legal problems seem much more serious than a series of off-color jokes, and women throughout the country have already taken to the streets denouncing his treatment of women.

But Berlusconi is a powerful man. He leads an Italian media empire and owns the nation's top soccer team, AC Milan. He's also the richest man in the country, which doesn't hurt either.

Whatever the result of the trial, it will take a while. Because of a number of other cases Berlusconi is embroiled in, this prostitution and abuse of power case could take years. Italian law also keeps defendants free from guilt until all levels of appeal are exhausted, extending the timeline further. In the meantime, Berlusconi doesn't have to resign from office, or even attend his court hearings.

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