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Andreotti says Ambrosoli 'was asking for it'

Statesman sparks storm with remark on Sindona's liquidator

09 September, 16:16
Andreotti says Ambrosoli 'was asking for it'

(ANSA) - Rome, September 9 - Italian elder statesman Giulio Andreotti unleashed a storm of criticism Thursday when he said a widely regarded hero murdered while liquidating a Mafia-linked financier's assets in the 1970s had brought it on himself. In an interview for a TV programme on the affair, Andreotti, 91, said "I don't want to fill in for the police but certainly (Giorgio Ambrosoli) was someone who 'was asking for it".

Ambrosoli, 46, was murdered outside his house in July 1979 by a Mafia hitman commissioned by Michele Sindona, a Sicilian banker whose empire was crumbling amid speculation the Mafia was calling in favours and debts.

Previously Sindona had been a high-flying financier whose activities on the foreign-exchange market prompted Andreotti to dub him "the saviour of the lira".

Sindona died of a poisoned cup of coffee in jail in 1986, after being convicted on several counts of fraudulent bankruptcy and Ambrosoli's murder.

Ambrosoli had continued digging into Sindona's affairs despite several death threats.

Posthumously awarded a medal for civic heroism, he has had piazzas named after him and was commemorated in a 1995 biopic entitled A Middle-Class Hero, directed by Michele Placido.

Most of the criticism of Andreotti's surprising remark used this description of Ambrosoli.

Emanuele Fiano, law-and-order pointman for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said Andreotti's "very serious statements take us back to terrible years". "For us, Ambrosoli remains the middle-class hero who didn't bow down to anyone.

"We could do with his example in today's Italy. The words of life Senator Andreotti are the worst reminder of those Italian powers, which Andreotti was a part of, that left Ambrosoli alone in a just and tragic battle".

Former PD chief and ex-culture minister Walter Veltroni called Andreotti's remarks "incredible".

The spokesman for ex-graftbuster Antonio Di Pietro's Italy of Values (IdV) party, Leoluca Orlando, called Ambrosoli "a true middle-class hero" and added: "With just one phrase, (Andreotti) smeared the memory of brave Giorgio Ambrosoli, murdered because of his honesty, the same honesty of all the honest citizens and servants of the State who lost their lives because they refused to compromise". For the ruling centre-right coalition, Interior Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano called Andreotti's take on the incident "surprising".

"It is surprising that 30 years after the fact Andreotti continues to show he is closer to Sindona than to Ambrosoli," he said. Ambrosoli's son Umberto, quizzed by ANSA, was more composed in his reaction.

"I think the remark doesn't need any comment. It speaks for itself.

"I don't know if Senator Andreotti's words represent the prevailing school of thought. I, frankly, have the opposite impression.

"The economic and financial world learned from that affair to change things while the political world doesn't seem to have done so".

ANDREOTTI 'SORRY'.

But the overall reaction was so strong that it spurred Andreotti to issue an apology, claiming he had been misinterpreted.

"I'm very sorry that an expression in Roman dialect caused a serious misunderstanding of my assessment of the tragic circumstances of Ambrosoli's death," Andreotti said in a statement.

"I was referring to the grave risks Ambrosoli had consciously exposed himself to," he said.

Seven-time premier Andreotti was convicted and then cleared of helping the Mafia but the 2004 acquittal verdict said he stopped working with the Mob in 1980.

The appeals court said any pre-1980 crimes were covered by the statute of limitations.

During the trial, prosecutors detailed Andreotti's extraordinary defence of Sindona and the pressure he put on the Bank of Italy to try to bail out the banker's Banca Privata Italiana.

Prosecutors said Andreotti went on defending Sindona even when "reasons of decency might have advised him not to".

The prosecutor told the jury this could only be explained by the fact that both men were tied to the Mafia.

Andreotti again refused to condemn Sindona in other remarks to the TV programme, to be aired on state broadcaster RAI Thursday evening.

"I tried to see things objectively. I was never a pro-Sindona advocate but I never thought he was the devil incarnate.

"His international activities showed a financial and economic competence which gave him cards others didn't have. If there was no reason to be hostile to him, you could only speak well of him".

During the final part of his career Sindona was also linked to Roberto Calvi, another Mafia-tied banker whose body was found hanging under London's Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.

Calvi had been nicknamed God's Banker because of his links with the Vatican Bank.

photo: Andreotti

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