03.29.11

Is George Clooney into Silvio Berlusconi's Bunga-Bunga Parties?

The actor has been asked to testify in the sensational trial of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, who's up against underage prostitution charges. Barbie Latza Nadeau on the wild case.

Is George Clooney into bunga-bunga? Apparently so, according to the Moroccan belly-dancer at the center of a sex scandal involving Italy’s 74-year-old Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Last fall, during an investigation into underage prostitution, then-17-year-old Karima El Mahroug otherwise known as Ruby the Heart Stealer, told investigators in Milan that Clooney and his Italian girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis were attendees at one of the prime minister’s famous bunga-bunga bashes at his Villa Arcore last year.

Berlusconi has been charged with paying El Mahroug for sex when she was a minor and for abuse of office for calling a Milan police station to spring her on an unrelated offense. Bunga-bunga is a ritual Berlusconi allegedly learned from his former best friend Muammar Gaddafi and involves myriad sexual stunts, from underwater rituals to high-priced strippers dressed as nurses and cops gyrating for (and on) Berlusconi and his cronies.

As delicious as it sounds, the accusation doesn’t really seem like Clooney’s style. He does spend much of the year in Italy at his lavish villa on Lake Como near Milan, but he is a strong supporter of Italy’s opposition party and a great friend of Walter Veltroni, the last man who ran against Berlusconi in an election, who he frequently stumps for when he is in Rome. In fact, his latest movie The American, was filmed in Abruzzo after Clooney made a promise to Veltroni to invest in the earthquake stricken area. It seems unlikely that Clooney would be invited to an informal Berlusconi sex-fest, and even less likely that he would attend. 

"It seems odd since I've only met Berlusconi once and that was in an attempt to get aid into Darfur," said Clooney.

"It seems odd since I've only met Berlusconi once and that was in an attempt to get aid into Darfur," said Clooney.

But Clooney’s girlfriend is another story. Last July, amid rumors that Clooney was about to propose, Canalis was embroiled in her own sex scandal after Milan prosecutors also opened a file on her for what sounded curiously like a paid-escort racket. According to the prosecution document obtained by The Daily Beast last July, Canalis and her femme-fatale friends would lure customers into Milanese nightclubs, ply them with drinks, and run up an extravagant bar bill and then sell sexual favors. “Their job was to encourage these customers to drink alcohol as to increase the table's bill, followed up by sex off-premises," Milanese prosecutor Frank Di Maio said then. "The girls were often given cocaine for free by those who want to sit at a table of famous people.” 

Canalis may have feasibly been one of the party girls attending Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga fests—she certainly ran in those circles and made her name as a TV showgirl on Berlusconi’s television network. But she says she has quit her playgirl ways since settling down with Clooney two years ago.

Either way, it seems highly unlikely they would have attended such a party together. 

At least that’s what Berlusconi is banking on. He has named Clooney along with a host of other stars who frequent Milan, including soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo who Ruby says attended the parties with her and then paid her thousands of euro for sex. Berlusconi is counting on the fact that they will all deny ever partying at the prime minister’s pad. 

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Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox. By Barbie Latza Nadeau. 224 pages. Beast Books. $14.95. ()

In the end it will be up to the judge in Milan to decide which witnesses will add credibility to Berlusconi’s prostitution trial, which starts next week in Milan, and not detract from it. Berlusconi attended a separate court hearing this week in Milan—this time for corruption within the companies of his media empire. Italian defendants are not required to show up in court and this week’s surprise appearance was the first time in eight years and 50 hearings that Berlusconi actually attended. His prostitution trial begins on April 6 and the judge will rule soon after which of his star-studded list of witnesses will be called to the stand in his defense. Whether he will personally grace the Milanese courthouse with his presence again next Wednesday is anyone’s guess, but most court-watchers who had hoped to see him are now holding out and hoping instead for Clooney. 

Barbie Latza Nadeau, author of the Beast Book Angel Face, about Amanda Knox, has reported from Italy for Newsweek Magazine since 1997 and for The Daily Beast since 2009. She is a frequent contributor to CNN Traveller, Departures, Discovery and Grazia. She appears regularly on CNN, BBC and NPR.