Four-time former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who portrays himself as a charming ladies' man, said on Friday that what he likes most about U.S. President Donald Trump is his wife, Melania.
Berlusconi, 80, has returned to the political spotlight this week as he campaigns for his Forza Italia party ahead of municipal election run-offs on Sunday, which he hopes will revive his political fortunes.
Appearing on a mid-day talk show on private broadcaster La7, Berlusconi was asked whether he was flattered to be compared to Trump, who also started out as a real estate mogul and became a controversial political leader.
"It doesn't make me feel one way or another," said the billionaire Berlusconi, adding quickly, "But regarding Trump, I can say, like many men and women, I like Melania. For her beauty, for her style and also her charm."
Berlusconi said he had never met her, but had seen her on television and had "heard many favorable opinions. Even the Democrats in America do not criticize her".
While the center-right leader was ejected from parliament after being convicted of tax fraud four years ago, he has remained the undisputed leader of his party, the country's third or fourth most popular, depending on the poll.
The flamboyant former prime minister has a history of making politically incorrect comments, many of which seemed to fuel his popularity.
Last month he praised newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron as a "nice lad with a good-looking mother" -- widely taken to be a reference to the 39-year-old French leader's 64-year-old wife, Brigitte Trogneux.
He also raised eyebrows in 2008 for calling U.S. President Barrack Obama "suntanned". A year later he repeated the quip when talking about the First Lady, Michelle. "They went together to the beach to get a tan because even his wife is suntanned."
During his last stint in office, Berlusconi was embroiled in a sex scandal involving a teenage nightclub dancer, Karima El Mahroug, who went by the name "Ruby the Heartstealer" and attended "bunga bunga" parties at his mansion near Milan.
He was acquitted of any wrongdoing in that case in 2014.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)