Italian president gives evidence on alleged Mafia deal

Giorgio Napolitano denies knowledge of alleged secret ‘truce’

Convicted Mafia boss Toto Riina’s lawyer Luca Cianferoni talks to reporters after leaving the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome yesterday. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA

Convicted Mafia boss Toto Riina’s lawyer Luca Cianferoni talks to reporters after leaving the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome yesterday. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA

 

In an unprecedented move, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano yesterday gave evidence in the high-profile, Palermo-based “Mafia-state” trial, a court case investigating allegations the Italian state made a ceasefire-type deal with Cosa Nostra in the early 1990s.

In a three-hour hearing, the president gave evidence during a special sitting of the Palermo court in Palazzo Quirinale, his official Rome residence. Mr Napolitano (89) is not accused of anything, but rather was asked about a turbulent moment in Italian life, during which he was the speaker of Italy’s lower house.

Prosecutors believe that, in the wake of a Mafia bombing campaign in 1992 and 1993 in which 21 people, including Mafia investigators Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, were killed, the Italian state negotiated a secret “truce” with Cosa Nostra, offering in exchange improved prison conditions for senior mafiosi.

Mere ‘spectator’

Speaking after yesterday’s hearing, lawyers confirmed the president had denied knowing anything about such negotiations, describing himself as a “spectator”. Given the hearing was held behind closed doors, further details of the president’s deposition were not available.

A note from the president’s office, however, expressed the wish the court release the full text of his evidence as quickly as possible for the benefit of the media and public opinion.

The president’s involvement began two years ago when it emerged he had been in contact with Nicola Mancino who, as minister of the interior in the early 1990s, is accused of having approved the negotiations. Media sources claimed Mr Mancino had rung the president four times two years ago to ask for his help.

For a long time Mr Napolitano appeared reluctant to testify, while last October he wrote to the Palermo court claiming he had no “useful knowledge”.

Loris D’Ambrosio

Prosecutors, however, were keen to hear details of any information related to him by a former close adviser, Loris D’Ambrosio, who had been in contact with Mr Mancino on behalf of the president. Mr D’Ambrosio subsequently died in the summer of 2012.

Prosecutors believe the man who orchestrated Cosa Nostra’s side of the deal was Toto Riina, then and now in detention. Riina, one of the most violent of all Mafia leaders, is the godfather who declared war on the Italian state by ordering the killings of Falcone and Borsellino in 1992.

Last year, media reports highlighted Riina’s alleged death threat, captured on a prison wire tap, against magistrate Nino Di Matteo, the man who heads the public prosecution in this trial. On Euronewsyesterday, Mr Di Matteo said he could not rule out the threat of further violence.