Berlusconi divorce paves way for possible third marriage

ROME (AFP) - Italy's billionaire former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is officially divorced, paving the way for a possible future marriage with a woman almost 50 years his junior, Italian media said Wednesday.

According to gossip website Dagospia and others, Berlusconi's brown-haired, shapely young girlfriend Francesca Pascale has already bought her wedding dress.

"Now Silvio Berlusconi can marry for the third time," following his divorce from Veronica Lario, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said.

"After three children, 22 years together and four years of separation, they are officially divorced," it said.

However, the two are still in dispute about the financial details of the divorce settlement after a lengthy and acrimonious legal battle.

A court initially awarded Ms Lario three million euros (S$5.2 million) a month but the amount was subsequently reduced to 1.4 million euros after an appeal by the scandal-tainted tycoon.

Now Ms Lario, 57, has appealed and a final ruling has yet to be delivered.

The divorce has hit the flamboyant billionaire tycoon's finances hard - a situation exacerbated by a lack of dividends from his business empire Mediaset.

In January, Italian media reported that the ageing playboy had cut off monthly payments of 2,500 euros ($3,400) to a host of young models and dancers who attended his parties.

The women - known as "Olgettine" after the street in Milan, Via Olgettina, where they lived in apartments paid for by Mr Berlusconi - were heard on wiretaps calling him for more cash, which they referred to as "flowers" or "fuel".

It was Mr Berlusconi's colourful social life that drove Ms Lario to divorce him.

She announced her separation from him in May 2009, saying in an open letter to the media that she could not "remain with a man who cavorts with minors".

The Corriere della Sera said it was now likely that the 77-year-old would marry his current love interest, 28-year-old Pascale.

Ms Pascale, snapped by paparazzi photographers never far from Berlusconi's side - and often clutching her trademark white dog - was quoted recently as saying she has had to keep tabs on her boyfriend's out-of-control household spending.

Mr Berlusconi is moving to a luxury apartment in central Rome where the rent will be less than the 2.1 million euros a year he pays for an entire palace nearby, according to La Repubblica daily. He is currently embroiled in three court cases, and went on trial last week for allegedly bribing a senator.

The trial-plagued former premier is also appealing a prison sentence for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute and abuse of office, and another for leaking a confidential police wiretap.