Giulio Andreotti, the seven-time premier who came to personify Italian politics’ shady links with organised crime, has died – and taken many of the country’s darkest secrets with him to the grave.
Known as 'Beelzebub' or even the 'Mafioso Mummy' on account of his apparent immortality and cadaverous appearance - as well as his nefarious links with Cosa Nostra and the Vatican - the 94-year-old died on Monday morning after several months of heart problems.
A familiar, small, and hunched figure, Mr Andreotti’s impact on post-war Italy was enormous. He helped draft the country's constitution after World War II, sat in parliament for 60 years and served as premier seven times and as minister 21 times. He remained a senator-for-life.
Among many notorious incidents in his career the Christian Democrat politician was accused of exchanging a “kiss of honour” with Cosa Nostra Boss of Bosses Salvatore Riina, who was jailed in 1993.
In 2002 Mr Andreotti was sentenced to 24 years in prison for ordering the murder of an investigative journalist in 1979 after a high-profile trial, but a year later on second appeal he was cleared and served no time in prison. “I'm being blamed for everything, except for the Punic Wars,” was his typically sardonic comment.
He famously noted once that "power wears out ... those who don't have it." His influence began to decline, however, in the early1990s when the centrist Christian Democrat party, which had been in and out of power sense the war, finally imploded in the Tangentopoli mega-scandal of 1992, as magistrates investigated hundreds of MPs in a vast web of corruption.
Mr Andreotti always denied any wrongdoing and was not convicted in relation to Tangentopoli, unlike that other giant of post-war politics Bettino Craxi, who fled Italy to die in exile. Craxi’s own protégé Silvio Berlusconi emerged from the rubble to assume power – and be on the receiving end of serious accusations of his own.
But anti-mafia magistrates have said that unlike certain prominent politicians who came after him, Mr Andreotti was not nobbled by the mob on account of his wealth and power, but actively cultivated links with organised crime, the details of which are never likely to be explained.
“He was as cunning as a fox,” Bobo Craxi, a junior foreign minister and the son of late Andreotti ally Bettino Craxi, told news channel Sky TG 24.
Giulia Bongiorno, the politician and top defence lawyer, hired by Mr Andreotti for many of his trials, said: “They'll say all sort of things about him. But those who knew him will feel a great sense of loss.”