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Clooney called by Berlusconi’s defense as witness

- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ROME (AP) - Silvio Berlusconi's defense lawyers on Tuesday named George Clooney, the Italian foreign minister and a bevy of showgirls as witnesses at the premier's upcoming prostitution trial, an attorney and news reports said.

Prosecutors, for their part, have asked to hear from 136 witnesses, including the Moroccan teenager at the center of the scandal and 32 other women who allegedly worked as prostitutes during parties at Berlusconi's villa, according to Italian news reports.

Both sides presented their lists of witnesses at the Milan tribunal where the trial opens next week. A judge must now decide which witnesses to admit.

The 74-year-old Berlusconi is accused of having paid for sex with the Moroccan, who is known as Ruby and was 17 at the time, and then using his influence to try to cover it up. The premier denies wrongdoing.

Clooney was listed because Ruby once said she had seen the Hollywood star and his Italian girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis at one of Berlusconi's parties, according to the law firm representing Berlusconi.

"We want to see if they confirm this fact or not," said attorney Piersilvio Cipollotti.

"It seems odd since I've only met Berlusconi once and that was in an attempt to get aid into Darfur," Clooney said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press by his representative. The American actor has campaigned to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in the western Sudanese region.

Italian newspapers reported months ago that Ruby had said Clooney, who has a mansion on Lake Como north of Milan, and Canalis were guests at one of Berlusconi's parties. According to a Feb. 22 report in leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, prosecutors talked with Canalis last month and she denied that she and Clooney had attended any of the premier's parties.

Berlusconi's defense also listed Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and other Cabinet officials amid the 78 people named as witnesses, Cipollotti said. Mariano Apicella, the Neapolitan composer who performs for Berlusconi, as well as showgirls and TV personalities who frequented Berlusconi's parties were also named, according to the ANSA and LaPresse news agencies.

Ruby, whose real name is Karima el-Mahroug, turned 18 in November.

Berlusconi is accused of having had several sexual encounters with her between Valentine's Day last year through May 2, 2010 in exchange for money. The premier is also accused of abusing his influence when he called police in May to get Ruby out of custody in Milan, where she had been held for an unrelated theft. She was eventually released.

Prosecutors say the premier wanted to keep his sexual relations with the girl secret. Berlusconi has said he intervened because he believed Ruby was the niece of now ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and wanted to prevent a diplomatic incident.

According to news reports, prosecutors have also cited as witnesses Milan police officials involved in Ruby's brief detention, as well as three Berlusconi associates also under investigation in the scandal: an ex-showgirl and Berlusconi's dental hygienist recently elected at a local post with the premier's party; a TV agent; and TV newscaster and longtime Berlusconi friend.

Berlusconi says he plans to attend hearings of the trial, which opens April 6, as much as his official duties allow. He also faces two other trials and a possible indictment relating to his business dealings.

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