Berlusconi's daughter preparing to take over the dynasty
Silvio Berlusconi is apparently planning a "dynastic succession" in which he would hand the leadership of his conservative party to his millionaire daughter, Marina, one of Europe's richest and most powerful women.
Berlusconi is reeling from a harsher-than-expected conviction handed down by a panel of three judges on Monday. He was sentenced to seven years in jail and given a lifetime ban on holding public office after being found guilty of paying for sex with an underage escort.
The billionaire businessman reportedly gave his blessing to his daughter as his heir at a private dinner just hours after the sentence was delivered by the court in Milan.
Berlusconi (76) apparently believes that Marina (47), the oldest of his five children, would be a worthy adversary to Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence who is tipped as a future leader of the centre-Left.
He also fears that Italy's Supreme Court could, within a few months, confirm a four-year prison sentence he received last October for tax fraud relating to his Mediaset television network.
"Berlusconi is convinced that the future of the party lies with Marina," Luigi Bisignani, a confidante of the ex-prime minister, told Italian radio.
The dinner was reportedly attended by Berlusconi and three of his children, including Marina, as well as Francesca Pascale, his 28-year-old girlfriend, and Niccolo Ghedini, his most trusted lawyer.
"Her manner and her determination convinced everyone at the dinner that she is the true heir of Silvio Berlusconi," said Mr Bisignani. "There have been political dynasties in other great democracies, for example the United States, with the Bush family and the Kennedys."
Marina is married to a former male ballerina with La Scala in Milan, and has a high public profile in Italy – she is the president of Mondadori, a huge publishing firm owned by her father. Photographs of her topless have appeared in magazines.
The prospect of her taking over the political mantle from her father has growing support within his People of Freedom party. "I hope Bisignani is right. I'd be very happy," said Daniela Santanche, an MP in Berlusconi's party and one of his most vociferous supporters.
It is not the first time that Marina Berlusconi has been urged to enter politics – a similar appeal was made in 2011, when her father was first caught up in the scandal over paying for sex with 'Ruby the Heart Stealer', the teenage exotic dancer whose real name is Karima El Mahroug.
Plenty of his supporters, however, believe he still has the physical and political strength to remain on the political scene and even to mount another bid for office. They say he was wrongly convicted by the court in Milan, that he never paid for sex with prostitutes, and that he has great plans for Italy – despite all the broken promises of his last three stints as prime minister.
"There is no better man in the world than him," said Lele Mora, a close friend and former celebrity agent who is on trial accused of procuring escorts for the 'bunga bunga' parties.
"I knew Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Lady Diana, and Berlusconi remains the kindest and most humane of them all." (© Daily Telegraph, London)