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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 13:27 GMT
Andreotti 'gutted' by murder verdict
Giulio Andreotti
Andreotti has vowed to clear his name
Ex-Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti has insisted that he is innocent of the murder charge for which he has been handed a 24-year jail term.

His comments came as Italy's political establishment and media rushed to condemn the verdict.

An appeals court on Sunday found 83-year-old Mr Andreotti guilty of ordering a Mafia hit on an investigative journalist in 1979, overturning the decision of a lower court.


Yesterday's decision takes my breath away

Guilio Andreotti
Mr Andreotti is unlikely to serve time for the murder because of his age, but he has vowed to clear his name.

"I have faith in the legal system... I always have," he told Italian broadcaster Rai. "But yesterday's decision takes my breath away."

He said he was "gutted" by the verdict.

The appeal court in Perugia ruled that Mr Andreotti was guilty of complicity in the murder of journalist Mino Pecorelli, who had been planning to publish damaging information about the politician.

He was shot in the head and back four times as he left his Rome office.

Mino Pecorelli
Pecorelli was hit by four bullets
Three years ago, a lower court cleared Mr Andreotti of involvement, but prosecutors launched an appeal.

The appeal court found against Mr Andreotti, also jailing Mafia member Gaetano Badalmenti for 24 years for the killing.

A fresh appeal will now be launched by Mr Andreotti against the guilty verdict.

Mr Andreotti says he has been the victim of a vendetta by political rivals and gangsters angry at his anti-Mafia crackdowns.

He was first named by a Mafia informer in 1993 as a party to the killing.

Several other defendants - including the alleged gunmen - were cleared by the appeal court.

The story which Mr Pecorelli was apparently planning to write has never been made public.

Outraged reaction

Mr Andreotti's conviction provoked almost unanimous condemnation, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi led the chorus of protest against the guilty verdict, saying Mr Andreotti had been the victim of "mad justice".

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who is the nominal head of the judiciary, said he was profoundly disturbed by the verdict.

A senior Vatican cardinal also expressed his indignation.

Mr Berlusconi, and the leaders of both houses of parliament, reportedly telephoned Mr Andreotti to offer their support.

Mr Berlusconi is facing his own battle with the courts, which he accuses of political motivation.

Mr Andreotti, who served as Italian PM seven times, had survived numerous inquiries and controversies during his decades in and around the corridors of power.

Badalmenti is already serving a 30-year sentence for drugs offences in the United States.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's George Alagiah
"For the judiciary, these are uncertain times"
See also:

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