Italy's most prominent anti-mafia campaigner has appeared in court to sue the mobsters who ordered his death.
In a high security Naples courtroom Roberto Saviano, the writer whose print expose ‘Gomorrah’ and the eponymous hit film it spawned made him a household name, finally looked his enemies in eyes - six years after he was forced into hiding.
Mr Saviano confronted Camorra bosses Francesco Bidognetti and Antonio Iovine via video link as he began the process of suing them - and two of their lawyers, Michele Santonastaso and Carmine D'Aniello - for threats and defamation, which he says came in an 2008 appeal hearing.
Through one of his lawyers, Bidognetti called Mr Saviano “one of the prosecution’s people for hire”. The convictions of the bosses were confirmed in 2010 along with other members of the Camorra’s Casalesi clan, some in absentia - the last of whom, Michele Zagaria, was found in an underground bunker beneath his home north of Naples exactly a year ago.
All are currently serving life-sentences in solitary confinement in prisons hundreds of miles from Naples.
The ruthless Casalesi clan came to the world’s attention following Mr Saviano’s book that revealed how it made hundreds of millions of euros each year by illegally dumping waste – much of it toxic, in addition to extortion rackets, drug trafficking, smuggling of illegal migrants and arms.
Today, magistrates said Bidognetti had caused massive environmental damage after a company he controlled dumped toxic materials in the 1980 and 1990s in an illegal site near Naples. They said the dumping of more than 800,000 tons of refuse - in large part toxic - produced by companies in northern Italy, meant even water supplies had become poisoned. Cancer rates in the region north of Naples are known to be much higher than elsewhere in the country.
Prominent figures including former opposition leader Walter Veltroni and the editor of La Repubblica newspaper Ezio Mauro, expected to testify on behalf of Mr Saviano. Another journalist, Rosaria Capacchione, of Il Mattino newspaper, is also suing Bidognetti and Iovine.
From the courtroom, Mr Saviano tweeted: “The trial of the Casalesi bosses and their lawyers accused of threatening me is starting. I’ll look them in the eye.”
But later he noted that the mobsters were unlikely to return the stare let alone mention his name. “Their culture commands them not to acknowledge me or pronounce my name; from their point of view that would be handing me a gift,” he said.
The news came as the trial of a minister in the last government of Silvio Berlusconi continued in Naples.
MP Nicola Cosentino, a former economy undersecretary and the PDL co-ordinator for Campania, (the region around Naples) is accused of helping the Casalesi clan, with some members of whom he is distantly related. He denies the charges.
In an open letter earlier this year, Mr Saviano accused Mr Cosentino, however, of having been at the heart of a system that bought votes with favours and “destroyed a whole territory”.
Mr Saviano today said the Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to run for premier again was “disastrous news” for those fighting organised crime. He said the ability to buy votes “for €20 each” was a factor in ex-premier decision to run for a fourth term in the upcoming general national elections.
“Berlusconi's return is partly founded on the fact that a part of the vote in Italy can be bought,” Saviano told a radio show.
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