Capt Anatoly Ivanov, 59, a retired officer of the GRU, said in an interview on Italian radio that a Soviet spy submarine had been tracking Nato air movements in the area on 27 June, the night the aircraft crashed near the island of Ustica. 'It was without doubt an accident, a mishap during a firing manoeuvre,' he said.
The magistrate investigating the crash, Rosario Priore, has asked for a tape of the interview and applied to Moscow for permission to question Capt Ivanov, for Russian records might help him finally establish the truth that has been deliberately obscured for so long.
For 12 years, civilian investigators have come up against a barricade of lies, silences, forgeries, delays and missing records of what appears to have been a furious air circus, possibly a battle, involving Nato and perhaps Libyan aircraft, in which the airliner appears to have been hit. Eleven people who knew, or may have known, what really happened that night have died mysterious deaths.
The latest one was a retired air force general, Roberto Boemio, 59, a consultant for an Italian armaments manufacturer, who was stabbed to death outside his home in Brussels last week. Boemio had been in command of Italy's south- eastern approaches: the men in the tracking stations under his command would have records and knowledge of what happened. He was reportedly due to be questioned by Mr Priore soon.
The Belgian police are treating the incident as a stabbing for purposes of robbery, although the general's wallet was not taken. But the daily La Repubblica reported that an eyewitness, after a long interrogation, completely changed his account of the event.
And, a few days earlier, a briefcase containing records of radar trackings from Ciampino air base outside Rome on the night of the crash were snatched from a Swedish expert on his way to the airport. Gunnar Gunvall, head of the Swedish Defence Ministry's radar-analysis office, had been asked by Mr Priore to help decipher what records remain of air movements that night. It had been hoped that with the end of the Cold War and the start of a new US presidency the truth might now finally emerge. Someone, clearly, is still determined it should not.
Help from Russia, despite the end of hostility, will still be treated with great caution. Capt Ivanov, in his interview, drew a parallel between the DC-9 crash and that of the South Korean airliner brought down by a Soviet aircraft over the Kamchatka peninsula in Siberia. Whether the remark was intended for propaganda purposes or simply indicated a Russian willingness to help establish the truth was not clear.
Capt Ivanov was one of a working group of 14 Soviet intelligence experts set up in 1980 to analyse the DC crash. Mr Priore has learned that, in an astonishing parallel to what has happened in Italy, no fewer than 12 of these experts have died in mysterious circumstances. The latest was General Gruzev, deputy commander of the GRU, killed when a lorry crashed into his car in a Moscow street last November.Reuse content