ROME – A peeved Premier Silvio Berlusconi has demanded a public apology from his wife, who announced she was seeking a divorce from the billionaire media magnate because she was fed up with his roving eye for younger women.
Going on the counterattack, the 72-year-old, perma-tanned conservative premier, who in recent years has had hair transplants and plastic surgery around the eyes, appeared more intent on saving his wounded pride than his foundering marriage.
"Veronica will have to publicly apologize to me. And I don't know if that will be enough," the Corriere della Sera daily on Monday quoted Berlusconi as saying in a long chat with its editor-in-chief.
Veronica Lario, a 52-year-old former actress, confirmed Sunday she wants a divorce from her husband just a week after publicly venting her rage over Berlusconi's frequent flirtations.
When Corriere asked Berlusconi if he was thinking of patching up the couple's nearly 30-year-long relationship, the premier replied: "I don't believe so. I don't know if I want to this time."
The couple, who met in a backstage dressing room in 1980 after the love-struck Berlusconi saw Lario perform in a Milan theater, have been married since 1990 and have three grown children.
But the two have lived largely separate lives for many years — easy to do when a family owns several villas, apartments and vacation getaway spots in Milan, Sardinia and abroad.
Particularly grating to Berlusconi was Lario's insinuation that he is infatuated with Noemi Letizia, an 18-year-old in Naples. Lario alleges Berlusconi went to her birthday party — while failing to ever show up for the coming-out bashes of their own three children.
"I supposedly hang around with, as my wife said, 17-year-old girls," Berlusconi was quoted as saying as he let off steam in a chat Sunday with La Stampa's editor-in-chief. "That is something I cannot put up with. I am the friend of the (girl's) father and nothing more."
Custody won't be an issue since their children are legally adults. But questions over how to carve up Berlusconi's business empire for his five adult children in any divorce deal consumed the Italian media Monday.
"Silvio-Veronica, a divorce with a figure of nine zeros" after it, headlined Rome daily La Repubblica.
No longer Italy's richest man as he had been for years, Berlusconi and his family now rank No. 2 in the country, after sweets-maker Michele Ferrero. He's 70th in Forbes' world rankings, with $6.5 billion.
Besides Italy's three biggest private TV networks, Berlusconi's businesses range from real estate companies to movie and advertising production firms to the AC Milan major league soccer club, with most of his family's wealth grouped under the Fininvest holding company.
The premier holds some 63 percent of Fininvest, with the rest divvied up among family members.
Piersilvio and Marina Berlusconi, the premier's son and daughter from his first marriage, have top roles in Fininvest and Mediaset, which includes Berlusconi's TV networks.
His three children with Lario — Barbara, 24, Eleonora, 22 and Luigi, 20 — each have an equal part of a 21.42 percent share in Fininvest.
The premier, in remarks published Monday, seemed to imply that his political enemies had "stirred up" his wife to get at him, although he didn't specify whom.
He told Corriere that Lario "fell into a media trap," by complaining last week that he had planned to launch a bevy of TV starlets and showgirls for his Freedom People's ticket in European Parliament elections next month.
"We're talking about three talented girls out of 72 candidates," Berlusconi told the Milan daily. "And what's wrong if they are also cute?"