Andreotti was 'full member' of Mafia

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The Independent Online
ROME - Prosecutors have for the first time accused the former Italian prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, of being a full-fledged member of the Mafia, Italian media reported yesterday. They want Mr Andreotti put on trial on charges that he protected organised crime and have hardened their charges against the 75-year-old statesman from association with the Mafia to membership of it.

Seven-times prime minister, Mr Andreotti called the latest charges absurd. 'I have had nothing to do with the Mafia and there is no prosecutor's office or judge that can prove otherwise,' the life-senator told a private Italian television station. The Mafia was a group 'that I not only despise but which I have fought against by promoting very courageous laws and measures in government'.

The change, which one judicial source in Sicily called 'subtle but important', would strengthen the Palermo magistrates' case to hold an eventual trial in the Sicilian capital. Mr Andreotti has accused the magistrates of being naive by believing the testimony of former Mafiosi which forms the basis of their case. He says he can get a fairer hearing in Rome, where he has lived and worked all his life.

Since the Mafia is based in Palermo, magistrates could hold the trial there if they can prove that that the ex-premier was a member of the crime organisation rather than a mere associate. Magistrates decided to change the indictment last month but the news only leaked out on Tuesday night, newspapers reported yesterday.

Mr Andreotti has said the charges against him are part of a Mafia plot to punish him for crackdowns on organised crime by governments he headed. 'I have been waiting to know what the proof against me is and it is still not clear to me,' he told La Repubblica newspaper yesterday. 'But since I know well that there is nothing, because there can't be anything, I can only wait.'

Magistrates say they believe Salvo Lima, a Christian Democrat member of the European Parliament shot dead by the Mafia in Sicily in 1992, was Mr Andreotti's main link to organised crime. It is also thought that Lima's murder was the Mafia's revenge for failing to arrange the acquittal of dozens of its bosses who were appealing against prison sentences.

The case against Mr Andreotti is based on testimony from turncoat Mafiosi such as Tommaso Buscetta, who has accused Mr Andreotti of having used his political power to try to 'fix' trials against Mafiosi.

One informer, Baldassare Di Maggio, accused Mr Andreotti of greeting the Mafia chieftain, Salvatore Riina, with a kiss of respect at a 1987 meeting in Palermo. Riina was arrested in January 1993 after nearly 25 years on the run.

The former prime minister has ridiculed Di Maggio's accusations, saying constant police protection made it impossible for him to hold secret meetings. Mr Andreotti has held no government post since 1992 when Italy's political corruption scandal erupted. A master of wheeler-dealing in a country which gave the world Machiavelli, he is now a member of the Popular Party, the successor to the Christian Democrats.