Berlusconi faces a bleak future following resignation
HIS legacy tarnished and his hopes of clinging to power dashed, Silvio Berlusconi faces daunting legal and financial challenges, now that he has left office.
He has vowed that he won't run again for office, although few expect that he'll abandon politics for good.
But following his resignation yesterday, a political era in Italy closes and the 75-year-old is just a billionaire businessman once again.
"What we are viewing now is not the end of a government, but the end of a political system," said Massimo Franco, a political analyst for leading daily Corriere Della Sera.
Indeed, Mr Berlusconi dominated Italian politics for the last 17 years, serving three terms as prime minister. He held off political opponents and jousted with magistrates pursuing him on corruption and sexual misconduct charges, but was ultimately felled by massive international and market pressure.
Whether he goes back to running his media empire or even returns to the vacant post as president of his beloved AC Milan, he faces an unpleasant agenda.
Mr Berlusconi's resignation will mean he can no longer claim official government business as a reason for missing hearings in his three trials, a tactic that has been used to delay proceedings. His attempt at fashioning a law that would have given him immunity was overturned by the Constitutional Court.
But charges in two Milan trials related to his business dealings will run out due to the statute of limitations early next year, leaving little peril that the billionaire would face any penalty, even if courts can reach a conviction in the first trial. The Italian system allows for two levels of appeal.
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Mr Berlusconi is expected to testify before Christmas in his trial on charges of paying British lawyer David Mills to lie for him on the stand in another case. A verdict is expected in late January, but with the statute of limitations set to expire in March, it is impossible that two levels of appeal could be completed to make any verdict final.
Mr Berlusconi has denied the charge and Mills's conviction was overturned on appeal.
In the other trial concerning his Mediaset media empire, Mr Berlusconi is charged with tax fraud in the purchase of TV rights. He denies the charges, which also expire in the spring.
In the most sensational trial, the 75-year-old is accused of paying for sex with a Moroccan teenager -- known by her nickname Ruby Rubacuore, "Ruby the Heartstealer" -- and using his influence to cover it up. No fewer than 22 court dates have been scheduled through May.
A conviction would mean that he would be permanently barred from public office -- but he has already pledged not to run again and his hopes of becoming Italian president were dashed by the scandal.
That leaves the billionaire back where he started: running his considerable empire. The economic crisis has made that more challenging.
Shares in Mediaset have lost half of their value since May, as the debt crisis lapped ever more perilously at Italian businesses, and dropped by as much as 10 per cent in trading sessions this week as Mr Berlusconi's political future was decided by the markets.
While he can still count on friends in high places to look after his interests, Mr Franco, the Corriere della Sera analyst, said Berlusconi's future in the short term was probably not on Italy's political stage.
"I think Berlusconi can just survive, maybe with a personal party, but I don't think he is due to rule and lead Italy in the foreseeable future any more," he said.