Milan - An Italian court ruled on Wednesday that George Clooney and Cristiano Ronaldo can be called as witnesses in ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial for having sex with an underage prostitute.
Lawyers for Berlusconi want the Hollywood heart-throb and Real Madrid football star to help defend their client from charges of paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl and then abusing his powers to get her freed from custody.
The two are among 78 star witnesses including several former government ministers, a singer and two famous starlets being called by the defence, according to the list approved on Wednesday, a court official said.
Prosecutors are calling a total of 136 witnesses including the woman at the centre of the case, a Moroccan-born nightclub dancer called Karima El Mahroug who is better known by her stage name as "Ruby the Heart Stealer".
They are also calling 32 other young women who attended parties at the former premier's villa near Milan where the crime allegedly took place.
During police questioning, extracts from which have been leaked to Italian newspapers, El Mahroug recounted orgies referred to as "Bunga Bunga" parties.
Berlusconi faces a maximum of three years in prison for the sex charge and 12 years for abuse of power, after he allegedly pressured police to release El Mahroug when she was arrested in an unrelated case.
The court official said the judge would decide on a case-by-case basis whether specific witnesses would be called based on how the trial, which began in April but is still stuck in procedural issues, develops.
"Usually if they're called they have to come. But if they didn't come, we wouldn't send the police after them," the official said.
The next hearing on December 2 will see the first witnesses called - seven police officials who will testify on the abuse of power charges.
The following hearings will be on December 12, January 27 and January 30.
Clooney and Ronaldo are being called to attempt to discredit El Mahroug.
The young woman claimed that she had met Clooney at a dinner in Milan hosted by Berlusconi and that she had slept with Ronaldo for 4 000 euros.
Clooney has denied being at the soiree although he said one soiree he had with Berlusconi was "one of the more astonishing evenings of my life."
In an interview with Time magazine in November, he said he had been called by Berlusconi's lawyers. "I said I will come and testify if you like because I wasn't at the party that I was said to have been at."
"I wasn't at his bunga bunga party. But I was at another party, I went there to speak about Darfur. It was an amazing conversation. He showed me his bedroom and the bed that Putin had given him," he said.
Berlusconi resigned earlier this month and can no longer claim his official duties as a justification to avoid hearings in the three trials he is currently a defendant in, including on charges of tax fraud and bribery.
But he is still a member of parliament and therefore has parliamentary immunity, which can only be lifted by a vote in the legislature.
Even if convicted, he is unlikely to see the inside of a prison cell as people over 70 are not normally incarcerated except for murder or drug crimes.
Among the other witnesses called by the defence are Argentinian showgirl Belen Rodriguez, Neapolitano singer and Berlusconi buddy Mariano Apicella, Clooney's former girlfriend and former foreign minister Franco Frattini.
Berlusconi said he had called police to have El Mahroug released when she was arrested for petty theft because he thought she was the niece of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and did not want a diplomatic incident.
Prosecutors say Berlusconi was aware of El Mahroug's true identity and was acting only out of fear that the girl could tell police about their liaison.