The billionaire businessman-turned politician, speaking on Tuesday at the New York Stock Exchange, said among the reasons to invest in Italy include "fewer Communists" and his own investments there.

“And another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries,” said Berlusconi, risking outrage in a country where sexist remarks are regarded as seriously offensive.

Noting that Rome had scrapped inheritance tax, Berlusconi joked that “the invitation could be: come and die in Italy”.

The Italian premier has sparked anger at home and abroad a number of times.

He has compared a German legislator to a Nazi concentration camp guard and said Italian dictator Benito Mussolini never killed anyone and merely sent opponents on holidays.

He sought to explain the comments as misunderstood jokes.