By Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante
ROME – An Italian appeals court on Thursday overturned convictions in a major mafia trial, dismantling accusations that the state had colluded with Sicilian mobsters after a deadly wave of bombings in the 1990s.
In a ruling read out in the Sicilian capital Palermo, Judge Angelo Pellino said three former police investigators and a close associate of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had not committed any crime in the case which had captivated Italy.
However, he upheld guilty verdicts against two mobsters, including Leoluca Bagarella, a convicted killer for the Corleone mafia family.
The judge’s full opinion will be published at a later date. His initial ruling said charges levelled against the investigators did not constitute a crime, suggesting state officials could contact mobsters if deemed necessary.
The case involved allegations state representatives had negotiated with the mob following a string of mafia bombs and assassinations that killed 23 people, including prominent anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
The original verdict came in 2018 after a five-year trial. It said Marcello Dell’Utri, a Berlusconi confidant, had brokered a deal with the mob to stop the attacks.
He was handed a 12-year prison term for undermining the state, as were two retired Carabinieri (paramilitary police) generals while an ex-colonel got an eight-year sentence.
All four men have maintained their innocence.
“This acquittal is a turning point, not only for me but for Italian justice. This trial was monstrous,” Dell’Utri told Italy’s Adnkronos news agency.
The verdict raised questions about the effectiveness and coherence of Italian justice. “This is just the latest proof of the need for a genuine and deep justice reform,” said Matteo Salvini, head of Italy’s leading League party.
According to prosecutors, talks between the mafia and the Italian state began after judge Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were assassinated by a bomb under a motorway in 1992.
The state’s willingness to enter negotiations after Falcone’s murder encouraged further bombings, prosecutors said, including the one two months later that killed Borsellino because he had learned of, and opposed, the negotiations.
The following year Cosa Nostra stepped up the pressure with unprecedented mainland attacks on cultural and church targets, including Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. Ten people were killed in Milan and Florence.
After 1993, the attacks abruptly stopped.
The prosecutors said they would review Thursday’s ruling to decide if they would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.