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A 2004 file photo of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi and his wife Veronica Lario.

SUSAN WALSH

Silvio Berlusconi's alleged passion for beautiful young actresses and underwear models may set the Italian Prime Minister back hundreds of millions of dollars, if his estranged wife gets her way.

Veronica Lario, who is seeking legal separation from Mr. Berlusconi, is demanding €43-million a year in maintenance payments, the equivalent of $68-million (Canadian), or $5.6-million a month, the Italian media reported yesterday. If the amount is granted, it would rank as one of the biggest divorce settlements in history.

The national newspaper Il Corriere della Sera said the billionaire, centre-right politician considers the demand "exorbitant" and has offered Ms. Lario a settlement between €200,000 and €300,000 a month to keep her swanky lifestyle intact. Lawyers for Ms. Lario and Mr. Berlusconi, 73, neither confirmed nor denied the amounts.

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Ms. Lario, a 53-year-old former actress, is Mr. Berlusconi's second wife. He became infatuated with her 30 years ago, when he saw her perform topless in a play in Milan called The Magnificent Cuckold. They have three children; he has two others from his first marriage.

To the delight of newspaper editors from London to Rome, their marriage blew up in May, when Ms. Lario said she could no longer stick with a man "who frequents minors." Her outburst came shortly after Mr. Berlusconi's friendship with aspiring Neapolitan actress Noemi Letizia broke in the press.

The Prime Minister had attended her 18th birthday party and gave her a diamond and gold necklace. While he has never denied his friendship with Ms. Letizia, he has never explained how he met her.

Ms. Lario went on to accuse her husband of "shamelessly trashy" behaviour for his penchant for choosing gorgeous showgirls as Italy's candidates for the European Parliament elections. One of his favourite beauties, Mara Carfagna, once a topless model, was appointed Minister for Equal Opportunities in the Berlusconi government.

The birthday party scandal proved to be the start of a volcanic series of bimbo eruptions that have yet to end. The latest came this week, when Patrizia D'Addario, the former call girl and model who claims she had sex with the Prime Minister last year in his Rome palace, published her memoir of the relationship (Mr. Berlusconi says he can't remember meeting her and has never paid for sex).

The book is called Prime Minister, Take Your Pleasure, a title inspired by the famous line spoken by a prostitute to an aristocrat in the Fellini film Amarcord. At one point, she says she and other showgirls were taken to a salon in the palace. "I was watching the whole thing with curiosity and my first thought was that I'd found myself in a harem," she wrote. "He was on the couch and all of us, 20 girls, were at his disposition ... Having been an escort I thought I'd seen a few things, but this I'd never seen, 20 women for one man."

Impressed by his flamboyant lifestyle and lavish parties, the Italian edition of Rolling Stone magazine this week named Mr. Berlusconi "rock star of the year."

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Even though Mr. Berlusconi is a billionaire - Forbes magazine ranks him Italy's second-richest man and 70th in the world - payments as big as the ones demanded by Ms. Lario could damage his empire. His holdings include Mediaset, Italy's main commercial broadcaster, the AC Milan football team, Modadori, Italy's biggest publishing house, and a variety of property, insurance and film distribution businesses.

The divorce is bound to increase the odds that the carve-up of his empire among his five children becomes messy. Ms. Lario has no stake in Mr. Berlusconi's main holding company, Fininvest, but her three children are all members of the board and each owns a 7 per cent stake.

The most expensive divorce settlement is thought to be $1.7-billion (U.S.), the amount in assets reportedly paid by media mogul Rupert Murdoch to his former wife, Anna, in 1999. At the rate she's requesting, Ms. Lario would have to receive 26 years of alimony to reach that sum.

BY THE NUMBERS

It's $7,762 for every hour of every day.

It's 0.1 per cent of Silvio Berlusconi's estimated net worth of $6.8-billion

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If stacked as dollar bills one atop the other, it would form a tower 125 times as high as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

What Tiger Woods paid for an estate in the Hamptons.

The price of an eight passenger Gulfstream G550 private jet.

It's enough money to vaccinate the entire population of Switzerland against the H1N1 influenza.

Source: Staff

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