Shares of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV empire rose, then backtracked, on Monday after the disgraced former prime minister, who was forced out last year with Europe’s economy in tailspin, said over the weekend that he plans to run in upcoming elections.
Berlusconi, who has held power three times since 1994, kept a tight rein on local media as owner of the largest commercial broadcaster and, as prime minister, de facto controller of pubcaster RAI. Mediaset’s pay TV platform is locked in mortal combat with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia, which repeatedly bemoaned the absence of a level playing field when Berlusconi was in power.
Milan’s broader market fell 3.5% Monday and most European exchanges, as well as the Euro, were down.
Berlusconi dropped the bombshell outside the training facility of his soccer team AC Milan, telling reporters “I’m running to win.”
The news prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Monti. A respected economist, Monti has been pushing through painful reforms and an austerity program to keep Italy from defaulting on its EU obligations with less chaos than Greece and Spain.
Last year Berlusconi became the butt of worldwide “bunga-bunga” jokes after sex parties at his villa outside Milan and a dalliance with an underage Moroccan stripper.
He stepped down as prime minister, 18 months shy of the end of his term, under pressure from international financial markets, who did not see the 76-year-old billionaire as the leader able to pull the country out of the European debt crisis.
Berlusconi was subsequently convicted of tax fraud in October after his media company was accused of buying U.S. film rights at inflated prices via two offshore companies he controlled.
But the long appeals process may mean the statute of limitations will run out on the charge, as it has on previous court cases. He is also on trial for sexual misconduct.
Berlusconi’s party has plunged in popularity from its heyday but he’s hoping that austerity measures — including a higher retirement age and increased taxes — may pull Italians toward his populist agenda in the run-up to the March election.
Via Mediaset, Berlusconi also owns TV assets in Spain and France plus production and distribution company Medusa Film and publishing house Mondadori. Both Berlusconi and Murdoch are said to be eyeing La7, an independent network owned by Telecom Italia.