Aspiring Italian starlets and Oscar-winning actor George Clooney are being called to make appearances in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's trial on charges he paid for sex with an underage prostitute, then tried to use his influence to cover it up.
Unlike Berlusconi's other trials, the one that opens tomorrow puts the premier's personal life under scrutiny, and a conviction could end his political career. TV crews from around the world will be on hand for the opening session, even though Berlusconi himself is not attending.
"This time it is not about offshore, secret accounts and tax havens but about sex, money and power," the Turin-daily La Stampa wrote this week.
Berlusconi is skipping on Wednesday's session, citing earlier commitments to attend ceremonies marking the two-year anniversary of an earthquake in central Italy that killed more than 300 people.
Even without his presence, media interest is feverish, and the Milan court overseeing the trial is holding the opening session, reserved mainly for formalities like setting future trial dates, in an auditorium usually used for ceremonial occasions in order to accommodate media.
Outside, Berlusconi supporters have pledged to maintain a vigil on a traffic island opposite the courthouse where dozens have gathered for recent court hearings in three other pending Berlusconi cases, all involving corruption and fraud allegations.
Prosecutors allege Berlusconi paid a 17-year-old Moroccan girl known by her nickname Ruby for sex at his villa, then personally called police to have her released from custody when she was picked up for theft out of concern that she would reveal their relationship.
Both the 74-year-old premier and Ruby, whose real name is Karima el-Mahroug, have each separately denied having sex.
The underage prostitution charge carries a possible prison term of six months to three years. The abuse of power charge is even more dangerous: it carries a sentence of four to 12 years, and if Berlusconi is sentenced to more than five, he would be barred from ever again holding public office.