By Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) – An Italian appeals court on Thursday overturned convictions in a major mafia trial, dismantling charges the state colluded with Sicilian gangsters after a deadly wave of bombings in the years 1990.
In a decision read in the Sicilian capital Palermo, Judge Angelo Pellino said that three former police investigators and a close aide to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had committed no crime in the case that had captivated the Italy.
However, he upheld the guilty verdicts against two Mafiosi, including Leoluca Bagarella, a convicted killer of the Corleone Mafia family.
The judge’s full opinion will be released at a later date. His initial ruling said the charges against investigators did not constitute a felony, suggesting state officials could contact the gangsters if deemed necessary.
Political cartoons about world leaders
The case involved allegations that state officials negotiated with the mob following a spate of Mafia bombings and assassinations that killed 23 people, including prominent anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
The initial verdict came in 2018 after a five-year trial. He said Marcello Dell’Utri, a Berlusconi confidant, had negotiated a deal with the crowd to stop the attacks.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison for attacking the state, as were two retired generals from the carabinieri (paramilitary police) while a former colonel received an eight-year sentence.
The four men have claimed their innocence.
“This acquittal is a turning point, not only for me but for Italian justice. This trial has been monstrous,” Dell’Utri told the Italian news agency Adnkronos.
The verdict raised questions about the efficiency and consistency of Italian justice. “This is only the last proof of the need for a real and profound reform of the justice system”, declared Matteo Salvini, leader of the main Italian party of the League.
According to prosecutors, talks between the Mafia and the Italian state began after Judge Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were murdered by a bomb under a highway in 1992.
The state’s willingness to enter negotiations after Falcone’s murder encouraged further bombings, prosecutors said, including one who two months later killed Borsellino because he had learned of the existence of the negotiations and opposed them.
The following year, Cosa Nostra stepped up the pressure with unprecedented continental attacks on cultural and religious targets, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Ten people were killed in Milan and Florence.
After 1993, the attacks abruptly ceased.
Prosecutors said they would review Thursday’s ruling to decide whether to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
(Report by Angelo Amante and Crispian Balmer, edited by David Gregorio)
Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.