Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made a rare appearance at his sensational sex trial in Milan on Friday, denying that he had ever had sex with an underage belly dancer and claiming American heartthrob George Clooney can help him prove it.
The 76-year-old media mogul is facing up to 15 years in prison for allegedly paying then-17-year-old Karima El Mahrough for sex more than a dozen times. Both Berlusconi and El Mahrough, a Moroccan who danced under the stage name Ruby the Heartstealer, have admitted the elder statesman paid the young dancer more than €60,000, but they both deny it was for sexual favors. The money, Berlusconi has explained, was for a hair-removal machine for a beauty center Ruby planned to open. Berlusconi is also charged with abuse of office for allegedly calling the Milan police in May 2010 to spring Ruby from jail when she was stopped on an unrelated offense. At the time, he told police that she was the niece of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and he was trying to spare the leader embarrassment.
On Friday, Berlusconi told a panel of three female judges that he did not bed down the teenager and that his “bunga bunga” parties were elegant evenings at his Milanese Arcore villa, where he often sang to guests as they dined on gourmet cuisine. He says they were not sex orgies inspired by his former pal Muammar Gaddafi, who reportedly introduced his bro-friend to the art of the underwater orgy. “I can exclude with absolute certainty that there were ever scenes of a sexual nature,” he testified on Friday. “Everything happened in front of the staff and at times my children too came in to say hello.”
Over the summer, several women who had attended the parties contradicted Berlusconi, testifying that they had been paid large sums of cash in unmarked envelopes at the end of the night to perform striptease acts and pole dances. Sometimes the dancers said they started out in nuns’ habits and nurse uniforms, with one woman even claiming she dressed as Barack Obama before baring all. El Mahrough, who has admitted to being a frequent attendee at the parties, told investigators that George Clooney and his former girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis had attended one of the bunga bunga bashes.
On Friday, Berlusconi’s lawyers called both Clooney and Canalis to testify on Oct. 26.
Clooney has admitted meeting Berlusconi at his lavish villa to solicit support for his humanitarian work in Darfur, but he says he declined the invitation to stay for a party when the meeting concluded.
“I’ve had one evening with Berlusconi and it was one of the more astonishing evenings of my life,” Clooney said in a video interview with Time magazine.“I went to speak about Darfur. But he took me to see his bedroom and the bed that Putin had given him.”
If Clooney attends, it will be the first time he and his former lover have seen each other since their breakup. Canalis, who was a showgirl of the stripe that might have attended a Berlusconi bash before meeting Clooney, has never commented on whether she attended a bunga bunga party or not. But the actor says that he did not attend any party at Berlusconi’s house, and that he would come to Milan to testify to that if asked. “I spoke to their people and said, ‘I will come and testify if you’d like,’ because I wasn’t at the party that I was said to have been at. I wasn’t at his ‘bunga bunga’ party.” His spokesman was unavailable for comment about whether he will actually show up in Milan next week.
Berlusconi would benefit in the eyes of the law from Clooney’s testimony since it would cast doubt on Ruby and others’ claims about seeing the American actor there. But Clooney’s attendance in court would undoubtedly draw much more attention to the seedy sex trial than the former prime minister would like. Either way, the trial is expected to take a turn to the tawdry in November when Ruby herself is scheduled to address the court.