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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 20:34 GMT 21:34 UK
Andreotti escapes conviction
Giulio Andreotti
Former president Andreotti has fought Mafia allegations for years
Former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was once "friendly" with the Mafia, but too long ago to be convicted over it, Italian judges have said, explaining a verdict handed down earlier this year.

Mr Andreotti, 84, spent years of wrangling with legal officials and opposition groups who argued he had ties with organised crime while Prime Minister of Italy between 1972 and 1992.

A verdict acquitting the seven-times prime minister and life senator was submitted in Sicily's Palermo Appeals Court on Friday.

The 1,500-page judgement cleared him of all the charges that he associated with the Mafia.

It explained that Mr Andreotti had objectively underestimated the dangers posed by his proven contact with the Salvo cousins and Mafia boss, Stefano Bontade, before 1980.

"The court finds that Andreotti's real, enduring and friendly openness towards Mafiosi did not last beyond the spring of 1980," judges said.

Long-running

Palermo prosecutors had demanded a 10-year jail sentence for Mr Andreotti, based on evidence from jailed Mafia informer Antonino Giuffre.

He said the former PM had protected the mob and had links to Cosa Nostra bosses.

La Cosa Nostra - roughly translated as "This Thing Of Ours" - has 19th Century roots but its origins are obscure.

The crime of "Mafia association" was formally introduced in Italy in 1982.

Mr Andreotti had been facing charges for "organised crime" prior to this, but the court ruled that the charges had expired under the statute of limitation before the new laws were introduced.

Mr Andreotti took a public anti-Mafia stance from 1980 onwards, the written ruling said.

Appeal court judges rejected a testimony from one Mafia turncoat who said he had seen Mr Andreotti kiss the now imprisoned Mafia "boss of bosses" Toto Riina.

But they accepted the testimonies of other turncoats Mr Andreotti had met - including another prominent Mafia boss, Stefano Bontade - in the spring of 1980.

Diaries

Mr Bontade was murdered in 1981.

Mr Andreotti was sentenced to 24 years in prison last November in a separate case for ordering the Mafia to murder an investigative journalist in 1979.

The former premier was found guilty of masterminding the killing of Mino Pecorelli of the gossip magazine, Osservatorio Politico, on 20 March 1979, but he is appealing against this.

It is claimed the killing was to avoid the publication of the diaries of slain Christian Democratic leader, Aldo Moro.

The Italian judge, Lino Verrina, who found Mr Andreotti guilty was put under police protection after he received a death threat soon afterwards.

Mr Andreotti's lawyers are appealing the verdict, but legal experts say, even if convicted, he will most likely escape having to serve time in prison due to his age.




SEE ALSO:
Andreotti pleads for justice
28 Nov 02  |  Europe
Q&A: Italy's Mafia murder shock
18 Nov 02  |  Europe
Italian papers debate shock verdict
18 Nov 02  |  Media reports
Giulio Andreotti: Mr Italy
23 Oct 99  |  Europe
Mafia - past and present
06 Jan 01  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Italy
20 Oct 02  |  Country profiles



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