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'Forza Italia born from Mafia talks'

State's witness claims 'highly dubious', says Cosa Nostra expert

08 February, 17:22
'Forza Italia born from Mafia talks' (ANSA) - Palermo, February 8 - The party launched by Premier Silvio Berlusconi at the outset of his political career grew out of talks between Cosa Nostra and the state, a prosecutor's witness claimed Monday in statements that a top Mafia expert later said were 'higly dubious'.

Massimo Ciancimino, son of the late Palermo Mayor, is on the stand in the trial of former domestic intelligence chief Mario Mori, who is accused of letting super boss Bernardo Provenzano escape in 1995.

Ciancimino alleges that Mori and his father, Vito, were go-betweens in negotiations between the Mafia and the state in the 1990s to stop a bombing campaign by Provenzano's co-boss Salvatore (Toto') Riina that claimed the lives of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. On Monday, he claimed Berlusconi's Forza Italia was a ''product'' of those negotiations, which also looked at where to invest the Mafia's ''political capital'' after the Clean-Hands scandals toppled the powerful Christian Democrat and Italian Socialist parties in the early 1990s.

During the hearing, Ciancimino produced a note supposedly written by the Mafia superboss to Berlusconi's long-time aide, Marcello Dell'Utri, containing a veiled threat directed at Berlusconi's son meant as a warning not to renege on their agreement.

The note also supposedly showed the Mafia's interest in Berlusconi's Mediaset television network, saying the premier ''ought to place it at our disposal''.

''My father told me that this note was an aspect of negotiations that had been going on for years,'' Ciancimino claimed.

The letter was supposedly co-addressed to Berlusconi himself with an extra line suggesting that Provenzano was "running out of patience".

Ciancimino later claimed he'd been confronted by a secret service agent in 2006, while under house arrest for money laundering charges, who told him not to talk about the state's alleged negotiations with the Mafia.

He said that since he began collaborating with the police, he had received a number of death threats.


Following Ciancimino's testimony on Monday, an MEP for the opposition Italy of Values Party (Idv) and co-founder of the Italian anti-mafia police, Pino Arlacchi, said he ''didn't believe a word of it''.

He said Ciancimino was an ''interested and unreliable source'' trying to bargain his way out of a four-year jail sentence on charges of money laundering.

A one-time friend and colleague of Falcone, Arlacchi said the witnesses's sensational and unsubstantiated claims risked discrediting the testimony of other Mafia turncoats and ''ought to be taken with a grain of salt''.

He went on to admonish his politically ally, former Clean-Hands prosecutor and IdV Secretary Antonio Di Pietro, for subscribing to the ''paranoia about Forza Italia growing out of talks with the Mafia''.

Di Pietro is among Berlusconi's most vocal critics and leading the charge to oust him from office, largely on the basis of accusations like the ones made by Ciancinimo.

''Forza Italia was an sophisticated marketing-politics operation that created a force we've had to contend with since 1994. But the Mafia had nothing to do with that,'' he said.

Berlusconi's Forza Italia party merged with the right-wing National Alliance last year to form the People of Freedom party, one of the two main parties currently in government.

Culture Minister Sandro Bondi said that Ciancimino's allegations were political sabotage ahead of the regional elections this March.

''It never fails! Right before an election we always have to put up with this wave of libel and filth,'' he said. Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo' Ghedini on Monday again insisted Ciancimino's statements were ''groundless'' and that he would eventually have to respond for them in a civil suit for defamation.

Ciancimino turned state's evidence after his arrest in 2006 on charges of money laundering, for which he was sentenced to four years and three months in prison.

In addition to the Mori trial, he has also testified in an appeal by Dell'Utri of a nine year sentence for allegedly acting as a mediator between the Mafia and politicians and businessmen in Milan.

His testimony includes the claim that Provenzano betrayed his co-boss Riina in 1993 and was in turn allowed to reign over a 13-year ''pax mafiosa'' with relative impunity.

His father, Vito Ciancimino served as Mayor of Palermo in the 1970s before criminal investigations into his mafia ties in the 1980s ended his political career.

The first major Italian politician to be arrested on Mafia charges, Ciancimino died in 2002 at the age of 88, 13 years after being sentenced to house arrest on a slew of charges including fraud, embezzlement and rigging public tenders.

Photo: Massimo Ciancimino

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