The trial of Italo prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi on charges of sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power opened Wednesday and was rapidly adjourned as throngs of journos and international TV crews crowded the Milan courthouse.
Neither Berlusconi nor Moroccan pole dancer Karima El Mahroug, known as Ruby, attended the first hearing of one of Italy’s most anticipated courtroom events, which the judge postponed until May 31.
Prosecutors in the case, which touches tangentially on Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV empire, accuse the TV-tycoon-turned-pol of paying for sex with Mahroug when she was 17.
The alleged sexual encounters supposedly took place at Berlusconi’s villa at Arcore, outside Milan, during sex parties attended by dozens of women, some of whom were aspiring TV starlets, according to local reports.
George Clooney is named on a list of defense witnesses since El Mahroug said she once saw him at Berlusconi’s villa. Clooney issued a statement calling this claim “odd, since I’ve only met Berlusconi once and that was in an attempt to get aid into Darfur.”
Berlusconi is also charged with making phone calls to Milan police in May 2010 to attempt to use his influence as prime minister to have Mahroug released from arrest on suspicion of theft.
Berlusconi and Mahroug deny having sex. Berlusconi has repeatedly called his indictment part of an ongoing smear job by politically hostile magistrates.
Mediaset news anchor Emilio Fede, former Mediaset showgirl-turned-pol Nicole Minetti and talent scout Dario “Lele” Mora are also being investigated for exploiting or aiding prostitution of a minor by allegedly organizing Berlusconi’s parties.
Three female judges banned some 100 camera crews, many from international media outlets, from the proceedings, meaning they had to vie for space outside the court. But about 100 print journalists were allowed inside.
Berlusconi has vowed to attend the next hearing.