Supergrass claim links Andreotti to Mafia: An inquiry into the death of a leading Italian politician has revealed collusion between the Christian Democrats and Cosa Nostra

THE VEIL is being lifted on possibly the most shameful of all the political ill-doings being uncovered in Italy: the collusion between the Christian Democrat party and Sicily's Cosa Nostra. And the name of Giulio Andreotti, many times prime minister, has emerged.

An investigating magistrate in Palermo has established that Salvatore Lima, the powerful Sicilian Christian Democrat politician and Andreotti associate shot dead last March, had been the Mafia's man in Rome. He was a top-level fixer who would arrange favours from the government, and acquittals from the Supreme Court, in exchange for votes.

When Lima was no longer able to produce results, probably because of the political wind of change that had already begun to blow, the cupola, the 24-strong 'government' of Cosa Nostra, ordered his assassination.

The magistrate's report on the results of the seven-month investigation into Lima's murder refers to Mr Andreotti, now a Senator for life. Lima, for 30 years one of the most powerful politicians in Sicily and most recently a Euro- MP, had been a key member of Mr Andreotti's faction within the Christian Democrat party and effectively his viceroy in Sicily.

The 139-page report owed much to the revelations of four pentiti or supergrasses. One of them, Leonardo Messina, stated that Lima 'was not a 'man of honour' (ie, a a Mafia member) himself but was very close to men of Cosa Nostra and acted as their intermediary with Andreotti'.

In an interview given just before the report was published, Senator Andreotti strongly defended his late colleague and said: 'I was linked to Lima by a very intense and personal friendship. I have to say I tried to get to the bottom of all the insinuations against him. But I never found anything, not even a clue.'

Later he added: 'Salvo Lima was never a point of reference, an intermediary between me and the clans mentioned.'

Other politicians were also named in the report, and another supergrass, Gaspare Mutolo, was quoted as saying: 'Once, it was absolutely taken for granted in Cosa Nostra that we had to support the Christian Democrats at elections . . . we were unanimously convinced that through the politicians we could usefully influence the decisions of the courts.'

The investigating magistrate Agostino Gristina has issued orders for preventive detention against the 24 Cosa Nostra bosses who make up its cupola. Five were arrested, 14 of them were already in jail and four of them, including Salvatore 'Toto' Riina, the boss of the bosses, are in hiding.

The identity of Lima's two killers is still unknown. They shot the 64-year-old politician from a powerful motorcycle outside his seaside villa in the smart resort of Mondello, near Palermo, on 12 March.

The report indicates that the decision to have Lima assassinated was taken in February after he failed to have sentences against 342 mafiosi accused in a famous 'maxi-trial' annulled or at least reduced. Lima had allegedly promised the Mafia bosses that it would all be taken care of in the Supreme Court where there was a senior judge who had repeatedly overturned Mafia convictions by lower courts - but this time it did not work.

Although links between Sicilian politicians and the Mafia had been assumed for many years, and mentioned by the parliamentary anti-Mafia commission, scholars claim this could be the first truly political Mafia crime to come to justice.

The path of the case may not be smooth. Agostini Cordova, the Calabrian judge trying to prosecute collusion between the Calabrian Mafia and political parties, particularly the Socialists, has been repeatedly harassed by 'inspections' from Rome and is having his staff severely cut back.

But leading anti-Mafia fighters are jubilant. Leoluca Orlando, a former mayor of Palermo and head of the anti-Mafia movement, La Rete, said: 'A piece of the regime is really crumbling.' But, he warned, 'it is only the tip of the iceberg.'

THE Italian government yesterday forced a key part of its 1993 austerity budget, including a public sector pay freeze and a minimum tax on the self-employed, through parliament, using a series of confidence votes, ignoring opposition protests that it was gagging its own MPs, Reuter reports.

(Photograph omitted)