The family of Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is selling a two billion euro stake in the country’s largest commercial broadcaster Mediaset. Berlusconi is doing that ahead of next year’s elections to deflect criticism from his opponents of conflicts of interest between his political and media roles.
The Berlusconi holding company, Fininvest, did own more than half of Mediaset, but has now reduced its holding to just over a third. Berlusconi, who is Italy’s richest man, has been under pressure to sell Mediaset ever since he first entered politics over 10 years ago. He has always denied conflict-of-interest accusations, saying he does not run his companies. Romano Prodi, leader of Italy’s left-wing opposition, said the deal was a “financial operation” and did not remove the conflict of interest. An ally of Prodi’s, Vincenzo Visco, said: “Mr Berlusconi is selling because he fears he’ll lose next year’s general election and then there would be changes in the media ownership laws that would cause the Mediaset share to fall in value. He wants to take his profit after letting the conflict of interest go on all this time.” Some analysts agree. One said: “It’s a businessman’s decision. He’s sold when the share price is high to raise money for further investments.” But the banker handling the sale of shares confirmed it was partly politically motivated because of the poor performance of Berlusconi’s ruling coalition in the recent regional elections.