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Sunday, 17 November, 2002, 20:05 GMT
Former Italian PM convicted of murder
Giulio Andreotti
Andreotti: Still serves as life senator
A court in Italy has sentenced former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti to 24 years in prison over the 1979 murder of a journalist - overturning a previous ruling.

Andreotti, seven times Italy's prime minister, had been cleared by a lower court three years ago.


I continue to believe [in justice], even if this evening I find it difficult to accept such an absurdity

Giulio Andreotti

But prosecutors successfully argued to the appeals court that the Mafia killed journalist Mino Pecorelli on Andreotti's orders, because he was about to publish damaging revelations about Andreotti.

Andreotti, who is 83-years old and a senator, has denied the charges in both trials, saying they were politically motivated.

Reacting to the verdict, he said in a statement: "I have always believed in justice and I continue to believe, even if this evening I find it difficult to accept such an absurdity."

Shock

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says news of the verdict fell like a bombshell in political circles in Rome.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi poured scorn on the decision and on Italy's judiciary in general.

Mino Pecorelli
Pecorelli reputedly held secrets about politicians
"Sentences and acquittals follow each other frantically, beyond any logic, in a judicial context beset by partisanship and persistent hatred," he was quoted as saying by Italian television.

Members of the ruling coalition also condemned the ruling.

"This sentence is the expression of a justice system turned on its head, walking with its head on the ground and its feet up in the air," said Marco Follini, leader of the Christian Democratic Centre - part of Mr Berlusconi's coalition government.

But, our correspondent adds, it is unlikely that Andreotti will ever go to jail - because of his age and because the verdict is open to a further appeal to Italy's supreme court.

Andreotti served seven times as Italian prime minister between 1972 and 1992, and was a member of practically every Christian Democrat Italian government between the end of World War II and his retirement from active politics.

A series of corruption scandals in the early 1990s brought down Andreotti's Christian Democrats, which had dominated Italian politics since World War II.

He decided to leave politics in June 1992 and became a senator for life.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"Mafia trails have long been criticised for relying on turncoats"
See also:

23 Oct 99 | Europe
06 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
20 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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