Trump prospective juror excused after raising comparisons between ex-president and disgraced Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi

Late Italian prime minister divided opinion in his home country and frequently fell afoul of the law after becoming embroiled in sex and corruption scandals

Mike Bedigan,Alex Woodward
Thursday 18 April 2024 22:39 BST
Trump appears in court for day 3 of New York hush money trial

One of the potential jurors being considered for selection in the New York criminal trial of Donald Trump was excused on Thursday after noting media comparisons between the former president and disgraced Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi, who died last year aged 86, was a successful businessman-turned-populist-politician; he was one of the most divisive figures in his home country and often the subject of ridicule on the world stage; mocked for his hairdo and cast-iron confidence, he repeatedly ran afoul of the law after becoming embroiled in sex and corruption scandals; anti-immigration and an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, he had a manipulative and sometimes combative relationship with the media, and was known for his frequently outrageous and off-colour remarks; but every time he was written off by his critics he seemed to bounce back even stronger.

His name was invoked during the jury selection process in Mr Trump’s New York trial on 34 counts of falsifying business records. Prosecutors allege the records were falsified to conceal a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election to ensure her silence about an alleged affair in 2006. Mr Trump denies the affair and has pleaded not guilty.

After a group of potential jurors were selected to appear in the jury box to answer a 42-question survey, one of them, a man who was born and raised in Italy, said the case was "raising some concerns" for him.

He said the comparisons between Mr Trump and Berlusconi he had seen in Italian media would make it "hard for me to think impartially" and be fair. The judge excused him.

Berlusconi, who died in June last year, was the longest-serving Italian prime minister in the post-war era, with three stints in the top job. He entered politics in the 1990s after a successful career in televison, advertising and construction – and as the owner of AC Milan soccer club – made him famous, and was first elected prime minister of Italy in 1994.

The right-wing populist was convicted of bribing a former senator in 2015, as well as being convicted of tax fraud in 2014. He was initially banned from running for political office until 2019. However, an Italian court lifted the ban in May 2018, and Berlusconi won a seat in the European Parliament the following year.

Silvio Berlusconi, a successful businessman, media mogul and populist politician in Italy, died last year at the age of 86

In September 2022, he returned to the Italian Senate.

During his time in office Berlusconi was known for his penchant for the debaucherous, perhaps most infamously for his “bunga bunga” erotic parties. In 2003 he was criticised after telling US businessmen to invest in Italy because of its “beautiful secretaries”.

In 2013 he was accused and subsequently found guilty of paying for sex with former teenage nightclub dancer Kharima El Mahroug, better known under her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer", during one of the "bunga bunga" parties at his palatial home near Milan.

Donald Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels (Getty Images)

He was sentenced to seven years in jail and barred from holding public office, though the decision was overturned unexpectedly by an appeals court the following year.

Forbes currently lists the net worth of the late prime minister and his family as $6.9bn.

Despite humble beginnings as a singer in nightclubs and on cruise ships, Berlusconi made his fortune after founding media group Fininvest in the 1970s which became a national force and was responsible for importing US shows like Baywatch to Italy.

He also owned AC Milan for over three decades – helping make them one of the most successful soccer clubs in the world – before selling his stake to Chinese investors in June 2017 for $630m. The popular slogan “Forza Italia” used frequently by Italian fans also became the name of Berlusconi’s political party.

According to Forbes his fortune is shared between his five children and includes stakes in media, publishing and banking firms.

On Wednesday in New York it was revealed that if Mr Trump takes the stand he can be asked about previous allegations of misconduct and crimes – including instances of sexual abuse and fraud. He denies any wrongdoing.

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