George Clooney and his ex-girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis are among more than 200 witnesses accepted Wednesday by a Milan court in the trial of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute. Clooney has said he was approached by Berlusconi’s team to testify about “bunga bunga” parties at Berlusconi’s villas, but says he only visited the premier’s residence once to seek aid for Darfur and declined an invitation to stay.
Berlusconi’s defense lawyer Niccolo Ghedini told reporters that Clooney and soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo are on the defense list because an important prosecution witness cited them, the news agency LaPresse reported. Ghedini said they want to dispute the witness’s testimony.
Clooney said in an interview with Time magazine posted online that he was willing to testify, but added: “I wasn’t at the bunga bunga party.”
“I went to speak about Darfur. … It was a very interesting conversation to say the least, that became a very different kind of event than anyone ever thought.” At the end of the meeting, Clooney said he was invited to stay for a party. The actor said he responded: “No, I gotta go.”
The witness list also includes Karima el-Mahroug, the Moroccan teen who is alleged to have had sex with Berlusconi in exchange for money. Both she and Berlusconi, 75, have denied a sexual relationship.
Also slated to testify are three former aides being tried separately for their alleged role in organizing sex-fueled parties, as well as Mariano Apicella, who has put out four CDs with Berlusconi and often entertains at his residences, and two members of Berlusconi’s defunct government, ex-Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and ex-Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini.
By accepting the witnesses, the court agrees their testimony is relevant, although either side may decide later to reduce the number of witnesses or not to call someone because their testimony is no longer needed. Furthermore, Italy has limited power to compel witnesses living abroad to appear, although courts often arrange video testimony for the convenience of potential witnesses. The court also allowed transcripts of wiretapped calls to be entered as evidence, while a record of phone calls between Berlusconi and a police official won’t be admitted.
Berlusconi is also charged with using his influence to cover up the crime of underage prostitution by personally intervening to win el-Mahroug’s release from police custody when she was picked up on suspicion of theft. Berlusconi denies the charge and says he sought to get her out of custody because he believed she was the niece of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Ghedini said the exclusion of the phone call records was a “serious problem” for the defense, because it proves there was no abuse of influence, but he said that will be made clear through the police official’s testimony. The trial continues next week with the first witnesses, including police investigators.