Photo exposes Andreotti link with the Mafia

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The Independent Online
A PHOTOGRAPH taken 14 years ago has blown a large hole in the defence of Giulio Andreotti, seven times prime minister, against charges of complicity with the Mafia.

The photograph was produced during a 12-hour interrogation of Mr Andreotti in Rome yesterday by Palermo magistrates investigating the charges. It showed Mr Andreotti and other Christian Democrat party leaders with Nino Salvo, one of two cousins, both powerful Mafia figures, who are believed to have been a principal link between the Mafia and Mr Andreotti.

The former prime minister has hitherto flatly denied ever meeting or having any dealings with the Salvo cousins.

The photograph was taken at a dinner for Christian Democrat leaders during the election campaign in June 1979 at the Hotel Zagarella outside Palermo, which was owned by the Salvos. The magistrates said the meeting has been confirmed by the hotel manager and by Vito Ciancimino, a former mayor of Palermo subsequently jailed for Mafia activities. Both added that Mr Andreotti and Salvo strolled for a long time through the hotel together.

Mr Andreotti said he had had no idea who Salvo was and that he must have been introduced to him as the owner of the hotel. Nino Salvo later died of natural causes. His cousin, Ignazio, was assassinated by the Mafia last year.

Never published, the picture was seized by investigators recently from the files of Letizia Battaglia, a Palermo photographer who is now an MP for the anti-Mafia group La Rete. Ms Battaglia, who was working then for the Sicilian newspaper L'Ora, said she went to the dinner to take photographs, but they did not seem worth publishing at the time so she simply filed them away.

'I did not know the Salvos then,' she told the daily La Stampa. 'I did not know what they looked like, much less could I imagine that they were connected with the bosses . . . I put the film in an envelope labelled 'Andreotti' and never thought about it again.' She said she did not even think about the pictures when anti-Mafia sleuths knocked on the door recently and asked to go through her archives.

During the interrogation Mr Andreotti was brought face-to-face with Baldassare Di Maggio, the Mafia pentito who told investigators how to capture Salvatore Riina, the boss of all bosses. Di Maggio reiterated his claim that he saw Mr Andreotti meet Riina in 1987 in the Palermo home of Ignazio Salvo - then under house arrest - and greet him in the Sicilian manner with a kiss.

Many Italians, even Mr Andreotti's greatest opponents, found the story hard to believe. The magistrates have named another hitherto unknown eyewitness, Paolo Rabito, who is refusing to talk. But they have a tape-recording of a hurried telephone call to him by his mother saying: 'They have just said it on the second (TV channel), go and watch it on the first]'

The call was made on 21 April as the evening television newscasters were announcing the accusations by the magistrates against Mr Andreotti for association with the Mafia, including the alleged embrace with Riina.