Silvio Berlusconi was visibly gloating last week over a far-away ruling that he says justifies his dual role as media mogul and prime minister.
He was referring to a decision by New York’s ethics board to force NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to unload $45 million in stock to avoid conflicts of interest.
Berlusconi, whose family company Fininvest controls commercial broadcaster Mediaset, was quick to jump on the ruling.
“Bloomberg’s not being forced to sell his stocks in TV; he’s selling the rest — but he keeps his cable station,” the prime minister said jubilantly.
The empire of Italy’s richest and most powerful man is worth $7.2 billion and includes financial companies, publishing houses and an ad brokerage. As prime minister, he also holds sway over pubcaster RAI.
Because of this, Berlusconi has been under pressure to divest some of this portfolio since he won the general election in May 2001.
“Some 448 days have passed since Berlusconi became prime minister, and there’s still no law to solve his conflict of interest,” opposition leader Francesco Rutelli points out.
Rutelli and other opposition leaders take solace that the Bloomberg decision at least suggests that a solution to their own problem is possible.
But they still have a ways to go: A pending Italo law, unless amended, would not affect Berlusconi’s media holdings because it would make holding public office incompatible with running a company — but not with owning one. And Berlusconi already has passed the reins of his companies to his children.