Sicily mobs Andreotti as trial opens

He appeared just as he has appeared so often in his long career: a smiling, nervous expression on his face, an elegantly tailored blue suit fitting smoothly over his hunched frame, and a small pile of documents folded under his arm. But yesterday was hardly an ordinary day for Giulio Andreotti as he attended the opening session of his trial on charges of collusion with the Sicilian Mafia.

At the height of his powers as a government minister and Christian Democrat wheeler-dealer, it was invariably Mr Andreotti who held the attention of whatever company he found himself in, while everyone else sat up and listened. In the chastening surroundings of the courtroom, Mr Andreotti may still have been the centre of attention, but this time not a word passed his lips.

The high-security judicial "bunker" inside an annexe of Palermo's Ucciardone prison has seen some strange sights since it was built for the first Mafia "maxi-trials" in the mid-1980s. Yesterday the 30 hulking iron cages built to contain killers, drug-dealers, and money-launderers a decade ago lay eerily empty at the back of the semi-circular courtroom.

Mr Andreotti came through the same door as the prosecution team; he was not put in a dock, but sat on a front bench next to two of his lawyers, Franco Coppi and Odoardo Ascari. As a devout Catholic he was no doubt reassured by the sight of a large crucifix above the president's chair.

The front of the judges' bench bears the admonition "The Law is Equal for All", but already it is clear that Mr Andreotti is being treated, if only by virtue of his status, as a very special kind of defendant.

He insisted on flying down from Rome on a regular Alitalia service rather than the special private jet to which he is entitled as a former prime minister, and was promptly mobbed by journalists and photographers.

At Palermo airport he enjoyed the kind of reception that used to greet Giovanni Falcone, the murdered anti-Mafia judge who set up the maxi-trials of the 1980s. The road into town was lined with armed police, as well as the occasional graffito proclaiming "Long live Andreotti". It was not easy to tell if Sicily was welcoming a disgraced politician or a film star.

When Mr Andreotti decided to switch hotels at the last moment, one wondered if it was for security reasons, or to give the press the slip.

For the all the build-up and strange symbolism of the event, the opening session ended up as little more than routine. The presiding judge, Francesco Ingargiola, banned live television transmission, to the relief of the prosecution, which had feared an Italian version of the OJ Simpson trial, and allowed the state broadcaster RAI to film the proceedings only from fixed camera positions.

The defence then made a lengthy plea to have the proceedings transferred to Rome, an unlikely prospect since similar requests have consistently been turned down in the past. The trial resumes a week tomorrow.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
football
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
weird news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?