Former Italian Leader Gets Jail Time
The Associated Press
Sunday, November 17, 2002; 3:34 PM
ROME, Italy –– An appeals court Sunday overturned the acquittal of former Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti in the 1979 slaying of a muckraking journalist and sentenced him to 24 years in prison.
A mobster already serving a 30-year prison term in the United States, Gaetano Badalamenti, also was convicted Sunday for his involvement in the murder and received the same sentence as Andreotti.
Badalementi is expected to serve his sentence in Italy after his release from prison in the United States.
Three years ago, Andreotti and Badalamenti were acquitted by a lower court. Both can appeal Sunday's decision.
"I've always believed in justice and I will continue to believe in it. Although this evening, I am struggling to accept something of such absurdity," Andreotti told the ANSA news agency.
The 83-year-old Andreotti served as Italian premier seven times, and he and his Christian Democrats dominated national politics after World War II. The party was toppled in the early 1990s in corruption scandals, although Andreotti retained a seat in parliament as a senator-for-life.
The prosecution argued that the Mafia killed Mino Pecorelli for Andreotti, who allegedly feared that the journalist had dug up compromising information. It has never been explained what Pecorelli purportedly discovered.
Andreotti has maintained that cases against him were false, saying he was targeted by political enemies and mobsters getting even for his crackdowns on organized crime.
In 1999, a Palermo court cleared Andreotti on separate charges of aiding the Mafia.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi condemned Sunday's decision, arguing that it proved his frequent assertions that judges here are politically biased against conservatives.
"The 24-year sentence imposed on Senator Andreotti is the ultimate stage of a judicial scheme through which politicized sectors of the magistrature have tried to change the course of democratic politics and try to rewrite Italian history," Berlusconi said.
Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman who has faced several criminal investigations and charges, has repeatedly claimed he is the victim of political vendettas. Earlier this month, his government passed a justice bill that the center-left opposition says is designed to help the premier in a corruption trial.
Berlusconi said Sunday that he hoped a higher court would reject the sentence against Andreotti. "I express the most sincere solidarity with Senator Andreotti," he said.
All others accused in the Pecorelli case were acquitted Sunday. Badalamenti, who was tried in absentia in the Pecorelli case, was convicted two decades ago in New York for his role in a drug ring known as the "Pizza Connection." In April, he was also sentenced to life imprisonment in Sicily for ordering the 1978 killing of an anti-crime campaigner, whose local radio program ridiculed and denounced the Mafia.
The journalist Pecorelli was shot dead March 20, 1979, with four pistol shots after leaving the offices of OP, a magazine for which he wrote. Italian authorities initially looked into other suspects, but won no convictions.
But in 1993, Mafia informer Tommaso Buscetta told authorities looking into organized crime that Andreotti and Badalamenti were involved in the Pecorelli case, prompting fresh investigations.
In 1999, a court absolved all the accused in the Pecorelli case. Prosecutors appealed the case, leading to Sunday's decision in Perugia, a hilltown in the Umbria region.