Silvio Berlusconi’s trial on charges he paid for sex with an underage Moroccan dancer opened today, and was adjourned less than 10 minutes later.
After all the media hype surrounding the trial, which prosecutors say will describe wild “Bunga-Bunga” sex parties at Berlusconi’s villa outside of Milan, this morning was certainly anti-climatic. The trial will resume on May 31.
Neither Berlusconi nor the dancer, known as “Ruby the Heartstealer,” was present at the hearing, although Berlusconi said he wants to attend the trial when possible.
Ruby has been called as a witness by both the defense and the prosecution. The defense charges that Berlusconi and a couple of male friends hosted parties in which dozens of young women would entertain them in exchange for cash and other gifts.
Berlusconi denies he ever had sex with Ruby, and says he has never paid for sex at all. He claims his parties are always refined affairs.
The trial has divided Italy. “The Ruby case is a sad one because it deals with a minor, but the whole system is corrupt,” said Father Vincenzo Santilli, an Italian missionary priest. “Italy is no longer the country it once was, because of the corruption. Unfortunately, this government has helped it spread all over, at all levels.”
But many Italians love Berlusconi, and although his center-right coalition government was shaky just a few months ago, it has recently consolidated its power, and appears relatively stable.
In addition to the Ruby trial, where he is charged with paying for sex with a minor, and abuse of power, Berlusconi also faces three other trials on corruption charges linked to his vast business empire.
The prime minister and his supporters claim that all the trials are politically motivated.
“This is an old story, which began in 1994, when Mr. Berlusconi decided to get into politics,” said Deborah Bergamini, a member of Parliament for the Freedom Party. “Since then he’s been under attack. It’s just another way to try to get him out of power.”
For the Ruby trial, dozens of starlets and aspiring showgirls have been called to testify. The defense also put actor George Clooney on the list of witnesses they would like to see, since Ruby claimed she saw him at one of the parties with his girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis.
But the judge will decide if Clooney has to appear. For his part, Clooney, who has a villa in northern Italy, has said he’s only met Berlusconi once, and it was to talk about getting help into Darfur.