Berlusconi at 80: 'regrets I have a few'

Berlusconi at 80: 'regrets I have a few'

ROME - Silvio Berlusconi celebrated his 80th birthday on Thursday, away from the limelight he enjoyed for decades as a flamboyant Italian prime minister, media tycoon and owner of AC Milan.

Silvio Berlusconi turns 80 on September 29, 2016

The current squad of the seven-times European football champions marked the occasion by making a video in which captain Riccardo Montolivo thanked Berlusconi "for making this club the greatest in the world."

Tributes from the world of politics were less effusive.

"I think Berlusconi will be remembered 300 years from now for the things he did in football, publishing and television," said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. "In politics he will above all be remembered for the things he did not do."

Twice-divorced Berlusconi was thought to be spending the day with his 31-year-old girlfriend Francesca Pascale and an extended family that he admits to having neglected during the course of his business and political careers.

The one-time cruise ship crooner has been largely absent from public life since undergoing open heart surgery in June.

But he did grant an interview to one of his publishing empire's own magazines, Chi, to mark the milestone.

In it, he confirms that his political career is effectively over. "I will dedicate more time to the people that I love and that is the way it should be: five children and ten grandchildren have turned me into a patriarch," he said.

Despite his penchant for hair transplants and plastic surgery, Berlusconi has not been able to stop the march of time.

He underwent successful surgery in June to replace a faulty heart valve that could have cost him his life.

It was not his first intimation of mortality. He had a pacemaker fitted after a heart attack a decade ago and he was operated on for prostate cancer in 1997.

"Throughout my life I have never given any thought to my age. On the contrary I always lived as if I was 40 because that is how I felt: full of curiosity and desire to do things," he added.

"Then the (heart) illness arrived out of the blue. And with the operation I underwent I had a very strong realisation that I am an 80-year-old man," he revealed.

- Charges still outstanding -

Other regrets include not being able to give enough time to his football club of late.

The once-mighty Milan have dropped to the level of also-rans in recent seasons having being starved of funds by their owner, who is now in the process of offloading the club to Chinese investors.

"If Milan has not done as well as before these past years, it is because I have not had the time to personally take care of it," he lamented.

That, he claims, is the fault of politically-biased judges who have pursued him in a string of legal cases ranging from corporate tax fraud to having sex with an underage courtesan at one of his notorious Bunga Bunga parties.

"For years I have spent at least three afternoons a week with my lawyer preparing the 3,600 hearings I have had to endure in 73 political trials," he said.

Tax fraud was the only crime the supposedly 'red' judges ever nailed Berlusconi for.

Most charges he got off because of court cases timing out and in the Bunga Bunga trial the judge accepted that he could not reasonably have known that 'Ruby the heart stealer' was 17 at the time of their encounter.

Allegations that he bought the silence of up to 21 young women remain outstanding with a preliminary hearing set to take place next week.

The 2013 fraud conviction saw Berlusconi kicked out of parliament and, like a spurned lover, he now insists he never cared.

"Politics was never really my passion," said the man who was Italy's longest-serving premier of the post-war period.

"All it did was make me lose a huge amount of time and energy. If I entered the ring it was only to stop communists from getting into power."

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