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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 20:19 GMT
Italy's Andreotti cleared of murder
Giulio Andreotti
Mr Andreotti is relieved the long-running case is over
Italy's former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti has been cleared of charges that he ordered the Mafia killing of a journalist 24 years ago, court officials said.

The verdict from Italy's highest court overturned a decision by a lower court last November which had convicted the 84-year-old seven-times prime minister and life senator.

That court had sentenced him to 24 years in prison, but he later avoided the threat of incarceration after it was deemed that too long had elapsed since the killing.

The new verdict leaves no possibility for a re-trial and puts an end to Mr Andreotti's involvement with the case.

Prosecutor Gianfranco Ciani said on Wednesday that Mr Andreotti had no motive to order the murder and described the case against him as "conjecture without any supporting evidence".

Mr Andreotti has always claimed he was the victim of a mafia vendetta after one of the governments he led cracked down on organised crime.

He has spent years wrangling with legal officials and opposition groups who argued he had ties with organised crime while prime minister of Italy between 1972 and 1992.

Shock at ruling

Mr Andreotti was convicted by a court in Perugia last November of masterminding the killing of journalist Mino Pecorelli on 20 March 1979.

It was claimed the Mafia killed Mr Pecorelli on Mr Andreotti's order because he was about to publish damaging revelations about the former premier.

Mino Pecorelli
Pecorelli reputedly held secrets about politicians
Those who carried out the killing have never been identified or brought to justice.

The court's verdict against Mr Andreotti rocked Italy's political world, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi leading condemnations from both the establishment and the media.

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

After Thursday's court ruling, Mr Andreotti reminded reporters that the case had gone on for more than a decade.

"Some might have hoped I wouldn't get here. But here I am, thanks to God," he said.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Frances Kennedy
"The ruling is the culmination of a judicial saga"



SEE ALSO:
Andreotti escapes conviction
25 Jul 03  |  Europe
Q&A: Italy's Mafia murder shock
18 Nov 02  |  Europe
Giulio Andreotti: Mr Italy
23 Oct 99  |  Europe
Mafia - past and present
06 Jan 01  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Italy
31 Aug 03  |  Country profiles



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