Shock, exultation and malicious glee greeted news, the biggest bombshell since Italy's magistrates ceased to be afraid of probing the misdeeds of the politicians who have run Italy unchallenged since the war. It also shows that the big investigations are moving on: from the north to the south, from the Socialists to the top Christian Democrats, from corruption to - much more chilling - alleged connivance with Italy's Mafia.
The country was still reeling from the news when four other old-guard Christian Democrat leaders, including Antonio Gava, long a head, like Mr Andreotti, of one of the party's correnti, or factions, Paolo Cirino Pomicino, a close Andreotti associate, and one Socialist, were notified they are under investigation for association with the Naples mafia, the Camorra. The notifications followed a judicial blitz on Naples, with 17 members of parliament under investigation for corruption and associated crimes and arrest warrants issued for the outgoing Mayor and 10 members of the city council.
More than 200 pages of accusations, the result of nine months' work by Palermo anti-Mafia magistrates reached Mr Andreotti on Saturday, while a formal request for permission to prosecute was sent to the Senate. They appear to have been sparked off by alleged revelations by three Mafia pentiti, or supergrasses, that the Mafia's 'man in Rome' was Salvatore Lima, the most powerful Christian Democrat politician in Sicily and a leading member of Mr Andreotti's corrente. Lima was assassinated by the Mafia last year.
The news was announced by Mr Andreotti himself. He immediately declared it was the Mafia's revenge for his efforts to beat them: 'To accuse me of Mafia (activities) is paradoxical. As a government, and also personally, I adopted tough measures against the mafiosi and proposed extremely severe and effective laws.'
Neither Mr Andreotti nor Mr Lima is suspected of being mafiosi themselves. 'One can be sure he never met a Mafia boss and never was involved in big Mafia business,' said the commentator, Giorgio Bocca, in the daily La Repubblica. 'His relationship with the Mafia was political.'
For years the Mafia enjoyed some kind of protection which allowed its wanted bosses to go uncaptured, which enabled it to make gigantic fortunes from drug and arms trafficking, to 'adjust' the outcome of trials, to commit appalling massacres and murder. Gaspare Mutolo, one of the pentiti who have accused Mr Andreotti, told the parliamentary anti-Mafia commission: 'The problem is not the laws that are written on paper. The problem for the Mafia is that the written laws are not applied.'
Mr Andreotti's case even overshadows that of Bettino Craxi, the Socialist former prime minister who until now has been the number one accused in the corruption scandals. It is also very different, as the two are different. Mr Craxi is extrovert, autocratic, a more modern politician and one who did not attempt to hide his remarkably luxurious way of life.
Mr Andreotti was one of several leaders of the Christian Democrats, the most cunning, the longest-standing (he has served in every parliament since the war and held office off and on since he was 28). He was close to the Catholic Church, still important for a Christian Democrat (unofficial Vatican sources reacted with 'astonishment and incredulity'). His power was behind the scenes, Machiavellian, subtle, devious, a network of countless invisible strings he could pull at will. Mr Craxi called him a fox, and many doubted that he would ever be caught up in the scandals.
In order to keep a dominant position within the Christian Democrats and be prime minister, Mr Andreotti needed the backing of Sicilian members of the party and, Sicily being impregnated by the Mafia, that could have had a price.
The exultation came from his enemies. 'Great news,' said Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League. 'This is really the end of the regime,' said Gianfranco Fini of the neo-fascists. Mr Andreotti's arch-enemy, Le oluca Orlando, leader of the anti-Mafia group, La Rete, said: 'If this had happened 10-15 years ago perhaps we would have avoided the massacres.' And the glee many felt was echoed by Eugenio Scalfari, editor of La Repub blica: 'When all the gods had fallen, he had remained upright, firm and impassible under the deluge as if others' misfortunes did not affect him . . . Now the blow has come. The statue of the divine Giulio lies in pieces among the broken pillars of the Forum.'
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