Italian government in the dock as landmark Mafia trial begins

Berlusconi's daughter gives evidence as ex-minister and two former Cosa Nostra heads are indicted

Prosecutors in Palermo have indicted 12 men for alleged Mafia crimes, including the two most feared recent heads of Cosa Nostra and a former Interior Minister, in a case that has once again turned the spotlight on the relationship between Italian politics and organised crime.

The 12 indicted this week are arraigned on charges ranging from Mafia association to threats to the body politic. But behind all the accusations lies the same imperative, one which has stained and shamed much of the political history of post-war Italy: a compulsion on the part of political leaders to reach accommodation with organised criminals who over and over again proved themselves too ruthless, determined and united for the state to put them behind bars.

The highest-profile name on the charge sheet is Nicola Mancino. Now 81, Mr Mancino, a Christian Democrat who was Interior Minister at the time in question, and went on to become Speaker of the Senate, the second highest position in the state.

The charge sheet alleges secret talks between the Italian state and the Mafia in the early 1990s aimed at bringing a campaign of murder and bombing to an end. Mr Mancino is alleged to have withheld evidence revealing the existence of the talks. After the indictment was published he commented that he would prove his innocence and his "loyalty to the state".

But the case and its implications were brought bang up to date when it emerged from prosecutors' wiretaps earlier this month that Mr Mancino had telephoned President Giorgio Napolitano to urge him to get Italy's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor involved in the case – in an attempt, it appeared, to derail the local Palermo prosecutors' decision to indict him. The effort has clearly failed.

The murder in 1993 by the Sicilian Mafia of the courageous anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, followed a couple of months later by that of his close colleague Paolo Borsellino, revealed the Sicilian gangsters at their most ruthless and ambitious. By killing the two men who had been most effective in challenging the Mob's power on the island, the then capo di capi Salvatore "Toto" Riina threw a gauntlet down to the state.

As well as killing their pursuers, the Mafia launched attacks on monuments in Rome and Milan: by borrowing the tactics of the ultra-left Red Brigades, Riina hoped to bend the state to his will. The plan was foiled by a surge of public fury against the Mafia.

In their last months alive, Falcone and Borsellino became aware that their official protection against the Mob was weakening – that the state they were seeking to defend was toying with the idea of betraying them. If the indictments in this case are proved, the substance behind those fears will become clearer. It is claimed that political leaders including Mr Mancino were seeking to do a deal with the very people Falcone and Borsellino were trying to put away.

Also indicted is Marcello dell'Utri, Minister of Defence in Silvio Berlusconi's first government and co-founder with the media magnate of his first political party, Forza Italia. Despite winning a recent legal victory against Mafia association charges, a disturbing new wrinkle was added to Mr dell'Utri's CV last month when he went on trial accused of having extorted huge sums from Mr Berlusconi as the price of silence about the latter's claimed Mafia links. Mr dell'Utri denies the charges. Magistrates questioned Marina Berlusconi, the former premier's daughter, who is not suspected of any wrongdoing and spoke to them "as a victim and as a person with knowledge of the facts", according to the Berlusconi family lawyer Niccolo Ghedini.

The other politician on the list of Palermo indictments is Calogero Mannino, a former minister who is still an MP in the lower house. Far better known are the names of the Mafiosi indicted, who include Luca Bagarella and Giovanni Brusca, both serving life sentences. The convicted killer of Falcone, Brusca was dubbed during his years on the outside as "the Pig" and "the Christian killer" for his homicidal compulsions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot