Magistrate Nino Di Matteo – who is investigating an alleged deal between the Italian state and the Mafia, to bring its violence to an end – has given an exclusive interview to euronews’ Sabrina Pisu.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has been called to give evidence at the high-profile trial.
The proceedings began in Bunker hall of Palermo’s Ucciardone prison, where Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were the judges in the first big anti-Mafia trial in 1986/87. It ended with 19 life sentences, including the bosses Totò Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. In 1992 Falcone and Borsellino paid for the fight against the Mafia with their lives.
Twenty-two years later the boss of bosses Riina issued a death sentence against Di Matteo, who is trying to shine a light on the darkest era of the Mafia violence in Italy.
Sabrina Pisu, euronews: The trial over the state-Mafia negotiations, or rather, the state putting itself on trial. Is the state prepared to accuse itself of such serious crimes?
Nino Di Matteo: ‘‘Our constitutional system is mainly characterised by the fundamental rule of legal equality for all citizens. When tangible elements come to the surface, as they have in the last few years, the state has to have the courage to look into them carefully and bring any responsibility of its representatives into the open.
“This certainly is a unique trial and it concerns an absolutely tragic period in the history of our republic. The trial aims to understand whether in the years between the end of 1991 and 1994 Cosa Nostra used bombs to threaten the state and persuade it to make less repressive choices regarding the Mafia and whether any representatives of the state somehow became go-betweens as a result of Cosa Nostra’s blackmailing and pressure on the state.
“This is a trial in which the representatives of the state are not involved because they negotiated but because they, as we consider in the prosecution hypothesis, acted as go-betweens in the blackmail. I believe that a state and a legal system that aims to be credible should not be afraid to deal with these issues.’‘
euronews: Did the state-Mafia negotiations slow down or increase the bombings?
Di Matteo: There are some definitive sentences issued by the Florence Court of Assizes that describe an objective fact. When Cosa Nostra had the feeling that it was being looked for by representatives of the state, possibly to mediate, rather than pull back, it multiplied its intentions and the intensity of its intentions to carry out bomb attacks.
“At one point the Mafia began to understand that high-level bomb attacks paid off and they were useful because by looking for a counterpart, the state showed that it was beginning to give way. Cosa Nostra, in particular Totò Riina, understood that the bomb strategy could be the right strategy for forcing the state to come to an agreement.
“I believe that history, not only legal history, should teach us that one can never look for any form of dialogue with Cosa Nostra and with Mafia organisations in general because a dialogue with the Mafia would mean acknowledging that it is a counterpart with a structure and a consistency that a Mafia organisation must never have.”
euronews: Does this trial risk running aground in what you call the ‘‘conspiracy of silence’‘ or of being blocked by, again to use your words, the “state’s impenetrable code of silence’‘?
Di Matteo: The investigations and the trial are obviously difficult but the hearings are proceeding properly and very calmly. The court, we the prosecutors and also the lawyers are all studying every aspect very thoroughly. In our opinion, that is according to the public prosecution, during the investigations, not everyone said everything they knew, some people lied and others only started talking about what they knew a long time after the events they had found out about, and many of them only after members of the Mafia, like Spatuzza, or the sons of members of the Mafia, like Massimo Ciancimino, started talking about the state-Mafia negotiations.
“The trial is continuing with all the parties involved in the proceedings working very hard and very thoroughly and with the authoritative direction of the Court of Assizes that wants to find out and assess the facts.
“We hope that everyone who knows, or may know, both in the trial and during the further investigations, which the Palermo prosecutors are continuing to carry out, will step forward and say everything they know.”
euronews: How big is the “trial over the trial”, which is attempting to delegitimise the case for the prosecution?
Di Matteo: “The case for the prosecution and the prosecution hypothesis has been widely and legitimately criticised since the beginning of the investigation. Attacks, however, are different from criticism. We have also had to put up with all sorts of accusations, sometimes instrumental accusations. We are keeping calm because we are aware that our aim is only to try and find out the truth and nobody can tell us that we have violated the rule of law at any time during the investigations or the trial.”
euronews: How does it feel to hear some intellectuals or jurists justify the state-Mafia negotiations in 1992-93 as ‘‘necessary’‘ in a period of bombings on our country?
Di Matteo: “This goes beyond the public prosecutor’s judgement and becomes an ethical type of assessment. I do not think that the state can come to an agreement in any case, for any reason, under any conditions. If it had, if it did or if it was to in the future, it would betray the memory of all those people who have sacrificed their life to oppose the Mafia. I have to mention that from a more objective, historical point of view the state-Mafia negotiations may well have saved the life of some politicians but it caused the death of other Italian citizens.”
euronews: Some people try and delegitimise the trial, saying that it deals with things from the past. But do the state-Mafia negotiations really only concern our country’s past or are they still relevant and do they govern the country’s strongest dynamics?
Di Matteo: “These are facts from the past but if the state did come to an agreement with Cosa Nostra then, and today the state did not have the strength to bring these events out into the open, Cosa Nostra would always be very dangerous for the state because it would have the power to blackmail the institutions. However long ago they occurred, these facts have to be investigated, precisely in order to prevent the Mafia from exercising the terrible power of blackmail, now and in the future.
euronews: Do you fear a new season of bombings?
Di Matteo: “I have no wish to express any judgements or evaluations so I will just make a historical consideration. In the past too, there have been moments when, because many Mafia bosses had been arrested, it was thought that Cosa Nostra was basically a phenomenon of the past. Unfortunately that was when the Mafia always reorganised itself and also increased its power over the State. The history of the Mafia consists of moments of apparent calm, moments of apparent difficulty and then sudden returns to the bombing strategy. I do not believe there are elements leading us to consider the danger of the return to a strategy involving violent attacks against the state as finally passed.”
euronews: Does this mean that Cosa Nostra can still use the threat of bombings, that the state-Mafia negotiations could be opened again or that they have not yet ended?
Di Matteo: “I simply wish to say that it would be a real problem if the state underestimated Cosa Nostra’s capacity to reorganise itself, which it has demonstrated in the past, also in terms of violent attacks on the state.
euronews: Totò Riina wants to kill you. Why is the boss of bosses, author of heinous crimes and bombings like Capaci and Via d’Amelio (the massacres that killed Falcone and Borsellino), afraid of this trial in which he risks a light sentence compared to what he is used to ?
Di Matteo: “The interceptions are there, they are part of the hearing and they can also be listened to in video recordings. The interceptions objectively show how the most dangerous mass murderer in the history of the Mafia in Italy and maybe not only in Italy, would still adopt this approach. As far as the rest is concerned, I would rather not offer any further thoughts and evaluations.”
euronews: Why did you consider it appropriate to call the head of state, Napolitano, to testify as a witness?
Di Matteo: “We explained to the court why calling the head of state to testify is pertinent and relevant. The Court of Assizes considered these arguments to be pertinent and relevant so we will ask the head of state some questions. The witness’s evidence that has been admitted is a letter that counsellor D’Ambrosio sent him on 18 June 2012, a letter in which he expressed that he was afraid of having been used during the period between 1989 and 1993, which are the years involved in the trial, as a “useful scribe to cover unspeakable agreements”. This is the witness’s evidence and the Court of Assizes, not only the public prosecutor, has considered it relevant. Article 205 of the code of criminal procedure states that the president of the republic may testify and states the procedures with which this is to occur. I believe that up to now everything has been carried out by strictly applying the rule of law. This will continue to characterise the activity of the public prosecutors and of the Court of Assizes right until the end of the trial.”
euronews: How did it feel to be accused of having “blackmailed” or “humiliated” the head of state both regarding Napolitano testifying and the random telephone interceptions that involved him?
Di Matteo: “We are totally unconcerned because we know that this is not the truth at all. We have never intended to pursue any aim, regarding anyone, except to look for the truth by strictly applying the rule of law and the code of criminal procedure. We are also proud to have been able to respect the law, and have it respected by our collaborators. Not a single syllable ever leaked from those interceptions, neither before nor after they were destroyed. This shows that the intention has always only been to try and pursue the truth and investigate the facts, the ones that took place in 1992 and ’93, that are connected to our country’s darkest pages, also from the point of view of the attacks by organised crime.
euronews: You have always talked of the need for a change in political approach regarding the question of organised crime.
Di Matteo: Much has been done to attack organised crime but we are now at a point where there will really have to be a breakthrough. We have to attack not only the military aspect of the Mafia but also and above all the collusion that exists between the Mafia and politics, between the Mafia and businesses and between the Mafia and the public authorities.
“In order to achieve this, the political approach should also be different. The fight, for example, against corruption or against Mafia vote-buying, has to be made more incisive. The fight against the Mafia and the fight against corruption cannot be considered as two different things because it is precisely through corruption and other crimes that are typical of the public authorities that the Mafia is able to penetrate the public authorities, the local authorities and the political institutions. If no really effective and strict laws to repress corruption are passed, I am afraid that the relationships between the Mafia and the institutions will never be severed.”
euronews: Have you sometimes had the feeling that you are involved, to use Falcone’s words, in ‘‘a game that is too big’‘ for you?
Di Matteo: The professional experience of a public prosecutor, especially after many years, leads one to an ordinary but unfortunately tangible consideration. The anti-Mafia investigations, and the dangers of contamination, of delegitimisation and of screening become more difficult as one moves from an investigation of traditional Mafia to an investigation concerning the Mafia’s high-level relationships outside the Mafia. This type of investigation, if we want to use Falcone’s words, look out on the big power game in Italy. I agree with what Giovanni Falcone said in a far more authoritative way, which is that the most difficult investigations and trials are the ones in which the public prosecutor has to be even more committed and honest and has to take the risk of antagonising other systems and powers, beyond the Mafia.”
euronews: You said that working this way as a magistrate does not even pay off in terms of one’s career but what does it reward?
Di Matteo: “This is a question that goes beyond the investigations that one performs and the trials one takes part in. As a magistrate I firmly believe that even in assigning positions and directives, in a magistrate’s career the self-governing body of the magistracy have to finally and definitively abandon the criteria of the magistrate’s belonging to any given current. Different criteria should be appreciated, not only being professional and having experience, but also showing independence from other powers. I believe that the function designated by the constitution to the magistracy and to the figure of the magistrate, is that of an independent magistrate who, when making decisions and taking certain initiatives, does not consider opportunity but rather dutifulness. In this sense I believe the independent magistrate should be appreciated and not the one who is near one or another current of the magistracy or even somehow close to the political world.”
euronews: Falcone revealed the loneliness and the attacks even from within the magistracy. Have you ever had this kind of experience?
Di Matteo: “I would rather not answer. Being a magistrate is always wonderful and very exhilarating, precisely because of the role that the magistrate has to play in guaranteeing rights with respect to everyone’s rights. Maybe this is also why, since one is very enthusiastic and in love with the role, that when one is disappointed inside one’s own category, it is particularly hard.
euronews: You have lived with a police escort for twenty years. What makes you keep going?
Di Matteo: “The awareness that I am doing what I wanted to do when I started my law studies, and that I am dealing with things that I was enthusiastic about when I was a simple student.”
euronews: Is it possible, as Falcone and Borsellino said, not to let oneself be conditioned by fear?
Di Matteo: “It was precisely Paolo Borsellino who said that it is not possible to think that a magistrate is not afraid at certain times. The phrase that Borsellino said that I think about and remember because I find it very moving, is that courage does not consist of not being afraid but in making the consciousness prevail that one is moving forward with one’s head high, without letting oneself be conditioned. A magistrate who let himself be conditioned even by the fear of retaliation or revenge against him could not perform a magistrate’s work.”