Palermo prosecutors seeking to shed light on a murky period when
the mob targeted the state with assassinations and bombings
questioned a sitting head of state in a mafia trial for the first
time in the country's history.
Among the 10 defendants are Nicola Mancino, who was interior
minister at the time, and Salvatore Riina, once Italy's most
powerful mob boss.
The 89-year-old Napolitano is not accused of any crime and was
called as a witness who may have knowledge useful to the trial, but
the hearing may tarnish the image of a president who has done much
to guide Italy through political and economic turmoil in recent
Most Italian presidents have been little more than ribbon-cutters
and authors of patriotic speeches in the past, but Napolitano has
stepped in three times in as many years to break political deadlock
and seat governments amid economic crisis.
Prosecutors allege senior politicians and police, hoping to stem
mounting violence, held talks with mob bosses after anti-mafia
magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were
killed by a mafia bomb planted under a road in 1992.
The state's willingness to enter into talks after Falcone's murder
actually encouraged further bombings, the prosecutors say, including
the one that killed another anti-mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino,
two months later.
At the time of the bombings, Napolitano was president of Italy's
Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament. He became
Italy's president in 2006.
Prosecutors want to ask the head of state about a 2012 letter to him
from his legal adviser Loris D'Ambrosio that implied Napolitano had
known about the talks.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
The media were not allowed to cover the proceedings, sparking
protests from Italian journalists, and those present at the
closed-door hearing were not allowed to record it.
About 40 people - including prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers
- attended the hearing in a large hall in the president's 16th
century Quirinale Palace in central Rome.
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Riina's lawyer has said he wants to question the president, but it
is not clear whether the court will allow this. Riina is serving
life in prison for ordering multiple homicides, including those of
Falcone and Borsellino.
Napolitano has previously provided written
testimony but declined to speak before the court when prosecutors
made an initial request in October of last year. He agreed to the
hearing last month after a court ruled his testimony was "neither
superfluous nor irrelevant".
Mancino is being tried for giving false testimony, while another
nine defendants, including three senior paramilitary Carabiniere
officers, face charges they sought to blackmail the state. All deny
Napolitano was linked to the case when prosecutors tapped Mancino's
phone and recorded four calls he made to the president. In portions
of the wiretaps published by newspapers, Mancino complained about
the prosecutors and appeared to be asking the president for help.
Italian media reported last year that the recordings had been
destroyed, as had been ordered by the constitutional court.
But prosecutors have said they want to question the president about
Mancino's conversations with D'Ambrosio, who has since died, and not
about his own conversations with the former minister.
(Additional reporting by Wladimir Pantaleone in Palermo; Editing by
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