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Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian prime minister known for scandals, dies at 86

Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Italy’s Forza Italia party and the country’s former premier, has died at age 86.

He was admitted to a Milan hospital on Friday for what aides said were pre-planned tests related to his leukemia.

Berlusconi’s death on June 12, leaves a “huge void” because he was a great man, Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said on Twitter on Monday.

Berlusconi led Italy as prime minister three times between 1994 and 2011. A billionaire, Berlusconi made his fortune in media, founding Fininvest, a media holding company, in the 1970s.

In the 90s, he established the right wing Forza Italia party, which merged with the People of Freedom party in 2009. In 2013, Berlusconi re-established Forza Italia as a separate entity.

The former premier has been the subject of several controversies, and in February was acquitted of charges which alleged that he had paid a minor for sex during a party at his Sardinia estate.

 Years of scandals

As Berlusconi aged, some derided his perpetual tan, hair transplants and live-in girlfriends who were decades younger. For many years, however, Berlusconi seemed untouchable despite the personal scandals.

Criminal cases were launched but ended in dismissals when statutes of limitations ran out in Italy’s slow-moving justice system, or he was victorious on appeal.

Investigations targeted the tycoon’s steamy so-called “bunga bunga” parties involving young women and children, or his businesses, which included the soccer team AC Milan, the country’s three biggest private TV networks, magazines and a daily newspaper, and advertising and film companies.

Only one led to a conviction – a tax fraud case stemming from a sale of movie rights in his business empire. The conviction was upheld in 2013 by Italy’s top criminal court, but he was spared prison because of his age, 76, and was ordered to do community service by assisting Alzheimer’s patients.

He still was stripped of his Senate seat and banned from running or holding public office for six years, under anti-corruption laws.

He stayed at the helm of Forza Italia, the center-right party he created when he entered politics in the 1990s and named for a soccer cheer, “Let’s go, Italy.” With no groomed successor in sight, voters started to desert it.

He eventually held office again – elected to the European Parliament at age 82 and then last year to the Italian Senate.

Berlusconi’s party was eclipsed as the dominant force on Italy’s political right: first by the League, led by anti-migrant populist Matteo Salvini, then by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, with its roots in neo-fascism. Following elections in 2022, Meloni formed a governing coalition with their help.

He suffered personal humiliations as well.

Berlusconi lost his standing as Italy’s richest man, although his sprawling media holdings and luxury real estate still left him a billionaire several times over.

Additional reporting by AlJazeera

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