Given the fact that Berlusconi has a stake in nearly all aspects of Italian life, it is not surprising that he has been continually beset by charges of corruption and conflicts of interest since he came to power for the second time in 2001.

Cases related to his business dealings have landed Berlusconi in court for eight separate trials on charges including corruption, tax  fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties.

Among the most serious charges against him were those in which he was accused of bribing judges in business deals.

Perma-tanned and admitting to plastic surgery that makes him look 10 years younger than his 69, Berlusconi, has consistently denied wrongdoing.

He is a fierce anti-communist and has long alleged bias on the part of "red judges" in the Milan judiciary. He says the judges are out to destroy him.

Conspiracy claim

Convictions in 1997 and 1998 were either overturned on appeal or became void because the statute of limitations had run out.

Berlusconi recently launched an extraordinary attack on  prosecutors, calling a surprise news conference to oppose what he called "this latest political use of the judiciary, aimed at discrediting me".

A judge is to rule in early June whether the prime minister should once again face trial for corruption.

"The prime minister clings to figures like a drunkard clings to  lampposts, not for illumination, but to keep standing"

Romano Prodi on Silvio Berlusconi

Prosecutors have denied timing the latest case to coincide with the elections, and supreme court chief Nicoli Marvulli said Berlusconi suffered from "persecution mania".

Berlusconi has also been accused of manipulating his vast media empire to garner almost blanket coverage during the campaign.

H
e controls Mediaset, the country's largest private network which he founded initially as local station Telemilano in the 1970s, as well as Italy's largest publishing house and leading daily newspaper, Il Giornale.

During two televised live debates in the campaign Berlusconi repeatedly berated the moderator for not allowing him to speak despite going over his own allotted time.

Indeed he is not a man who holds his words back for another day.

Tough campaigner

In a particularly rancorous election campaign this year, he repeatedly resorted to personal insults against rival Romano Prodi and criticised his choice of coalition partners which include communists.

He even created a spat with China following comments that communists under Mao Zedong boiled babies to make fertiliser.

But for some Italians his business acumen is testament that he is the still the right man to run the country and by gaining around half of the vote he still has a crucial role to play in the formation of the next government.

His business dealings began at an early age by selling vacuum cleaners among other things.

In 1961 he founded Edilnord, a construction company, establishing himself as a property tycoon by building the stylish Milano 2 flat complex in the late 1960s.

He then developed Mediaset and his company took over nearly 150 companies from a range of different industries.

He moved into politics by forming his own party Forza Italia in 1993 and then won the 1994 general election becoming prime minister for the first time before losing out to Prodi in 1996.