Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi has infuriated Italy's legal establishment by blasting a group of female magistrates as "feminist" and "communist" for what he said was a €200,000- ($260,000-) a-day divorce settlement.
The comments — and the backlash — have added to the drama surrounding Berlusconi's return to public life amid his continued sexual and legal scandals and his new role as the leader of a center-right coalition campaigning in Italy's Feb. 24-25 election.
Italian media initially reported that Berlusconi's divorce from his second wife, Veronica Lario, would cost him €36 million ($47 million) a year. That breaks down to about €100,000 ($130,000) a day.
But on Tuesday, Berlusconi told the La7 private television network that the amount was much higher. While he didn't detail how he got to a €200,000-a-day figure, he said he was ordered by the Milan magistrates to pay Lario €36 million a year, with another €72 million ($94 million) in back payments.
"These are three women judges, feminists and communists, OK?" the three-time ex-premier said. "These are the Milan judges who have persecuted me since 1994."
Berlusconi has long accused Milan prosecutors and magistrates of mounting politically inspired cases against him, and he frequently accuses his legal and political enemies of being communists.
Milan chief judge Livia Pomodoro said Wednesday that she was "surprised and hurt" by the remarks, and "as a woman I am degraded."
In a joint statement, Pomodoro and the head of Milan's appeals court "strongly rejected any insinuation of partiality" by the tribunal's judges, whom they described as "diligent professionals."
While she said criticizing the justice system is healthy, Pomodoro told private Radio 24 that "I believe that qualifying a decision as biased because it was made by women, rather than men, does not seem right to me."
Pomodoro herself was not one of the judges on the Berlusconi divorce case.
The president of the Italy's national magistrates' association, Rodolfo Sabelli, said Berlusconi's accusations were "unacceptable" and challenged him to appeal the sentence if he found it unfair. Berlusconi said he was appealing.
In Italy, alimony payments are designed to keep the receiving spouse in the lifestyle that he or she was accustomed to while married.
"Judges base alimony mainly on income," Rome attorney Manrico Colazza said. "Berlusconi would have been required to produce his income records, including his bank statements, for the past two years."
Berlusconi, a 76-year-old media mogul-turned politician, has a real estate and media empire that Forbes estimates is worth $5.9 billion — enough to rank Berlusconi and his family 169th on the magazine's list of the world's billionaires.
Berlusconi's Fininvest SpA holding company includes private TV stations, Italy's Mondadori publishing house, newspapers and other publications. He also owns the AC Milan soccer team.
According to Corriere della Sera, a leading newspaper that first reported the news of the divorce settlement, Berlusconi got to keep the couple's estate north of Milan, which it said was worth €78 million ($102 million).
Berlusconi and Lario were married in 1990 and have three adult children. Lario filed for divorce in 2009, citing Berlusconi's fondness for younger women.
Berlusconi also has two other children from his first marriage.
Berlusconi, who is currently dating someone nearly 50 years his junior, is on trial in Milan accused of paying for sex with an underage Moroccan teen and using his office to cover it up. He and the girl deny the charges.
Berlusconi also was convicted by another Milan judge of tax fraud last year and is appealing that decision.
A ruling in the pay-for-sex case could come before elections next month. Berlusconi has been on a media blitz in recent weeks, seeking to boost his coalition's chances. It's not yet clear if Berlusconi himself will be the center-right coalition's candidate for premier.
Polls currently give the lead to the center-left Democratic Party, with Berlusconi's People of Freedom party and the civic movement of Premier Mario Monti vying for second and third place.
Victor L. Simpson contributed from Rome.