Prosecutors grill Italian President Giorgio Napolitano over alleged Mafia-state talks held in the early 1990s

The head of state - who was parliamentary Speaker at the time - tells special hearing 'he had never known of any deals' aimed at halting Cosa Nostra's deadly 1992-93 bombing campaign

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The Independent Online

The murkiest episode in Italy’s post-war history, the alleged talks between the state and Cosa Nostra in the early 1990s, was thrust into the spotlight today when prosecutors questioned President Giorgio Napolitano over the affair.

The 89-year-old head of state, who was parliamentary Speaker at the time of the supposed negotiations, told a special hearing that “he had never known of any deals” aimed at halting Sicilian mob bosses’ deadly 1992-93 bombing campaign. It has taken a considerable effort for prosecutors to be allowed to question him, and the exclusion of journalists from the hearing has led some observers to ask why senior authority figures remain so reluctant to discuss the allegations.

Before today’s hearing, the former Palermo prosecutor Antonio Ingroia, who initiated the Mafia-state probe, demanded to know why Mr Napolitano had not volunteered his help, given its importance. But after the closed session Luca Cianferoni, the lawyer of jailed Mafia boss of bosses Toto “The Beast” Riina, told journalists that Mr Napolitano has denied any knowledge of or involvement in the talks. “The President effectively said he was a spectator to this affair,” Mr Cianferoni said.

Riina is serving a life sentence for having orchestrated the bloody campaign, which claimed the lives of police officers, politicians, members of the public and two prominent anti-Mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Prosecutors, and many witnesses, claim that it was Cosa Nostra’s hatred of draconian solitary confinement measures, plus its anger at magistrate Falcone’s maxi-trial process in which hundreds of its mobsters jailed at a stroke, which prompted its murderous violence in 1992 and 1993. This in turn, it is alleged, brought state officials to the negotiating table.

Perhaps the most chilling claim is that state officials colluded in the killing of the second prosecutor, Mr Borsellino, because he suspected illicit negotiations were taking place. Mr Napolitano’s evidence forms part of the ongoing criminal trial in Palermo. Among the 10 defendants, all of whom deny any wrongdoing, is Nicola Mancino, who was interior minister at the time, and Riina.

The President is not accused of any crime and was called as a witness who might have knowledge useful to the trial.