The former Italian prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, already on trial for criminal involvement with the Sicilian Mafia, was indicted yesterday on the separate and even more damaging charge of ordering the murder of an investigative journalist who had been threatening to reveal some of his darkest political secrets.
Mr Andreotti, the eminence grise of the postwar Christian Democrat establishment and Italy's best-known politician abroad, was ordered to stand trial on 2 February along with five other suspects for the killing of Mino Pecorelli, a Rome-based magazine editor who was shot in the head twice at close range outside his offices on 20 March 1979.
According to the prosecution, Mr Andreotti, at the time serving the fifth of his seven stints as prime minister, asked his friends in the Sicilian Mafia to arrange the murder because he was afraid of the potentially damaging revelations that Pecorelli might make about his activities during the kidnap and murder of a fellow Christian Democrat and former prime minister, Aldo Moro, by the Red Brigades in 1978.
Among Mr Andreotti's co-defendants will be two Cosa Nostra chieftains, Pippo Calo and Gaetano Badalamenti, the two gangsters accused of actually carrying out the crime, Michelangelo La Barbera and Massimo Carminati, and one of Mr Andreotti's closest political allies, the former magistrate and foreign trade minister, Claudio Vitalone.
The case is based almost wholly on the revelations of six mafiosi who have turned state's evidence, including the first and most important of the Cosa Nostra supergrasses, Tommaso Buscetta.
The judge presiding over the preliminary court ruled yesterday that the accounts of the six tallied sufficiently to provide a "coherent basis to proceed".
Lawyers for Mr Andreotti and Mr Vitalone, however, described the admission of their evidence as a "death knell for justice" and "a web of accusations based on stories that have been cooked up and recooked".
Rumours have been swirling for years that the Christian Democrat leadership, including the faction led by Mr Andreotti, allowed Moro to be killed, because he represented a threat to their party interests and because he favoured a political coalition with the Communist Party.
Pecorelli had several sources in the intelligence services which he used time and again to embarrass the Christian Democrats in his magazine, Op.
Inevitably he made many enemies, and acquired a reputation for obtaining information by blackmail.
One of the prosecution's difficulties will be to prove that he had indeed dug up compromising information about Mr Andreotti, since he took his secrets with him to the grave.
There is also a problem with the witnesses, since the two members of Cosa Nostra with whom Mr Andreotti is alleged to have had direct contact, the cousins Nino and Ignazio Salvo, are both now dead.
The defence will concentrate on knocking the credibility of the Mafia turncoats, as it is doing at Mr Andreotti's other trial, which began in Palermo on 26 September. Its biggest liability in both cases is likely to be Mr Andreotti himself, whose statements are often hard to believe, if not downright contradictory.
Earlier this week Mr Andreotti said he had had only two contacts with Pecorelli, once when the journalist asked him for advice on combating headaches, and again in a letter of condolence when Mr Andreotti's mother died. Both episodes seem very odd for two otherwise unacquainted men.
The Mafia trial in Palermo and the murder trial, which will take place in the central city of Perugia, could take years to complete. The lawyers in Palermo are still arguing about procedure after five weeks in and out of court. Mr Andreotti, who is 76, said yesterday he hoped both cases could be resolved "within a time frame that is not Biblical".