Berlusconi Divorce Threat Endangers PM's Media Empire

By John Winn,
Wife's public decision to dump him comes one month before election day.

According to Daily Variety, Italian media are speculating that the decision by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's wife to divorce him may impact his control of TV empire Mediaset--permanently.

One anonymous analyst publicly speculated that a costly divorce settlement between the media mogul and Veronica Lario could hamper Mediaset's ability to acquire media-related properties, such as Britain's ITV network.

Berlusconi controls three of the seven major television networks in Italy, including public television network RAI, which he has considerable influence over as Prime Minister.

If Berlusconi and Lario were to divorce, Lawyer Cesare Rimini, a respected divorce attorney in Italy, said that a fight between Berlusconi and Lario for control of Mediaset could ensue.

The Milan-based conglomerate, which is run by Berlusconi's son and daughter from an earlier marriage, is worth an estimated 3.9 million Euros--5.1 billion dollars American--has a majority stake in several terrestrial networks in Italy, and Spain, as well as a production company in the Netherlands. Berlusconi is majority shareholder in all of them.

While the divorce rumors have created buzz for paparazzi in Italy as well as Europe and the United States, Lario's allegations are making waves in Italy's political world as well. Political commentators in the majority Catholic nation have noted voters' disapproval of Berlusconi's personal behavior even as Italy's GDP has grown to 2.3 trillion--$38,000 dollars per Italian--meaning that a potential divorce could rally support to the opposition Democratic Party, headed by Italian Walter Veltroni. Berlusconi's troubles stem from two editorials in the nation's newspapers penned by Lario, one detailing an allegation in which Lario spotted Berlusconi at a party with an 18-year-old who referred to him as "daddy" and a second detailing her decision to divorce him.

Lario and Berlusconi have lived separately since marrying in 1990. Lario is known to have had a relationship with opposition politician Massimo Cacciari--an affair Berlusconi has referenced several times in his speeches.

The couple have three children, Barbara, Eleonora and Luigi.

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