No. 5: Silvio Berlusconi

This was a tough year for Silvio Berlusconi. Plagued by scandals and harshly criticized for his handling of Italy’s mounting debt crisis, the prime minister was finally forced to step down in November.

Now that he could no longer push for immunity based on his PM duties, the embattled former leader faced court battles as three (for now) cases against him went forward. His first move? To sing love songs, of course!

Berlusconi released his CD, “True Love,” with singer/guitarist Mariano Apicella, just one week after his resignation; the release had previously been delayed by the fiscal crisis. The former cruise-ship songster co-wrote all 11 tunes on the album, his fourth with Apicella, over the past two years. His favorite, “Ma se ti perdo” (“If I Lose You”), could have been written about his lost majority in Parliament.

The sex scandals
Well before 2011, the billionaire PM and business mogul had quite the party-host rep. His legendary “bunga bunga” parties (well-attended “orgies” held at his lavish mansion, complete with celebrities and showgirls) reportedly went on even as Italy’s debt crisis escalated: A WikiLeaks report described his “penchant for partying hard,” while another secret recording captured Berlusconi bragging about the line of girls waiting for favors outside his bedroom. Hey, a failing leader has to unwind somehow, right?

But he may have taken things too far when he allegedly paid for sex with an underage Moroccan dancer named Karima “Ruby” El Mahroug  (otherwise known as Ruby Rubacuori or “Ruby heart-stealer”). He was also charged with abuse of power for allegedly trying to influence Milan’s police to release the young “heart-stealer” when she was arrested on suspicion of theft in 2010.  His defense team argued that he gave money to the then 17-year-old dancer to help shield her from a life of prostitution, not to pay for sex himself.

But another case against dancer-turned-regional-councilor Nicole Minetti seeks to prove that Berlusconi is just fine with prostitution. Minetti was accused of procuring several “working women” for him (prostitution is legal in Italy, but organizing them for a client is not). Her trial promises to be a sensational one, with witnesses such as George Clooney called to testify.

Tax fraud and bribery
Berlusconi has also been accused of tax fraud, allegedly overpaying the film rights for his company Mediaset and then putting the difference into his own coffers to lower tax liabilities.  Mediaset, which he founded in the 1970s, is the largest media company in Italy. Belusconi remains a controlling shareholder, despite promises to sell his shares to avoid conflict of interest while in office. Another fraud case for the same offense involves his son, Pier Silvio, who is chairman of Mediaset.

Yet another case goes back to 1997: Berlusconi allegedly paid $600,000 to lawyer David Mills to lie in court about business dealings. Mills was convicted and then appealed. The statute of limitations for this case kicks in springtime, so hearings will come fast and furious.

Will 75-year-old Berlusconi actually serve  jail time if convicted? Unlikely: Italy generally doesn’t incarcerate older people unless they pose a real danger to society. The burning question: Will the bunga bunga continue in 2012?

Rebecca Krasney Stropoli oversees news coverage on Yahoo! Finance. Before joining Yahoo! in 2007, she worked in a variety of editorial settings, including educational publishing houses and trade magazine newsrooms.

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