With the trial of embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on underage prostitution charges set to begin on Wednesday, there’s no question that it will set off a media feeding frenzy.
With allegations that seem ripped from the wildest dreams of a tabloid editor, it’s hard to say which one of trial’s juicy details will be the biggest deal of all.
Will it be the ever-grinning, 74-year-old billionaire, beloved and hated by so many Italians, accused of paying for sex with an underage prostitute (17 at the time), and then using his powerful position to cover it up?
Will it be teenage Ruby Rubacuori (“Ruby Heartstealer”), a.k.a. Karima El Mahroug, the Moroccan showgirl at the centre of the trial who claims Berlusconi merely invited her to his private villa and gave her thousands of euros as gifts to help her start out in show business?
Or will the surprise entrance by Hollywood leading man George Clooney upstage both of the trial’s starring players? Yes, a judge is to decide whether Clooney will be a witness in the trial, much to the star’s stated confusion.
The Ocean’s Eleven actor, who owns a villa on the shores of Italy’s stunning Lake Como, has been named by Berlusconi’s lawyers as a potential witness who could contradict Rubacouri’s statements and throw doubt on her credibility.
She claims she saw the A-lister and his girlfriend at a dinner at Berlusconi’s Arcore villa. Clooney says he has met the prime minister only once, when he approached him regarding aid for Darfur.
If Clooney does appear as a witness, expect a far bigger media storm to whip up. Think what supermodel Naomi Campbell’s implication in last year’s trial of ex-Liberian warlord Charles Taylor did to attract attention, only on a larger scale.
Berlusconi is the Britney Spears of international statesmen. He’s a train wreck from which we simply can’t look away, attracting fascination and revulsion — and in some corners, envy — around the world.
The politician and media mogul has spent most of his time in Italian politics in and out of court. He is currently the defendant in several trials on charges that include corruption and fraud. The admitted womanizer’s infamous “bunga-bunga” sex parties have made him seem a modern Caligula, and he is decried by women’s groups fed up with his misogyny.
That he is the leader of a powerful G8 nation, a country famed for its culture, elegance and Renaissance art, never ceases to amaze.
Many experts feel that if prosecutors ever have a chance to inflict real damage on Berlusconi, “Rubygate” is it. And if this is the trial that takes him down, the world will watch every moment.