The former Italian prime minister is notorious for his 'offensive jokes'. So is his brother, who maintained the family reputation with a comment about footballer Mario Balotelli
As we all know, there's only one Silvio Berlusconi. But, away from the limelight, his brother Paolo does a fairly good job of living up to the family name. Both men, for instance, do a nice line in what the Italian media charitably refer to as "gaffes". (A good translation might be "offensive jokes".)
While nothing tickles the former prime minister more than calling Barack Obama "suntanned", his little brother really ratcheted up the laughs this week by using a hard-to-translate phrase to describe footballer Mario Balotelli that, at best, means "the family's little black boy" and, at worst, could be taken to mean "little nigger".
It happened at a local event staged by the former premier's rightwing Freedom People party. And as an indication of how such belters go down among some of his brother's supporters, the reference to AC Milan's new striker did, in fact, raise some guffaws. Paolo's delivery was every inch his brother's as he alluded to Balotelli's own brand of bunga bunga. "He's a hothead," he told the audience. "All the young ladies are invited as well."
The chairman of AC Milan is, of course, Silvio – the 76-year-old billionaire who is campaigning for a fourth election victory in the vote at the end of this month. But, like the benevolent big brother he is, he shares it with Paolo, who is vice-president. Only last month, Silvio backed his players when they walked off the pitch during a match in which Kevin-Prince Boateng was subjected to racist jeers. They were, he said, "deplorable".
Football is far from the only thing the brothers have in common. The only sons of the middle-class Milanese couple Rosa Bossi and Luigi Berlusconi are both businessmen at heart; Paolo took over the reins at his brother's newspaper, Il Giornale, when, in 1990, a law was passed prohibiting the simultaneous ownership of a newspaper and a television station. Its pages can be relied upon to be strongly in favour of Silvio. The company Paolo Berlusconi Finanziaria also has a majority share in the conservative newspaper Il Foglio, and owns part of Fininvest, the hugely powerful holding company controlled by the Berlusconi family.
Paolo, like Silvio, has had his own brushes with Italian justice, having received convictions relating to a waste-disposal scandal in Lombardy in the mid-1990s. The most recent – a four-month sentence for false accounting – was upheld by a court in 2010. The siblings also appear to have similar tastes in women, with the now 63-year-old Paolo having two ex-wives and two serious ex-girlfriends, one a model-turned-journalist, the other a television showgirl and actor. The family remains close. One of Paolo's daughters, Luna, appeared on television recently describing uncle Silvio as "a second dad".