Twenty years ago, the Sicilian judge, Paolo Borsellino and five police were killed by a huge car bomb in via D’Amelio in Palermo. Of the three mafia murders that Italy is commemorating this year, Borsellino’s is the most disturbing today because we know enough to confirm our worst suspicions of complicity between mafia and state authorities.
For the other two, the judge Giovanni Falcone, killed in May 1992 and carabiniere general, Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa, killed in September 1982, we can only say unequivocally that they did not have the full support of the state. The worst that we can say (and that is bad enough) is that no one in the higher echelons of government and law enforcement made it clear to mafia bosses that the two men had the full support of government and the ministries. Both were killed because they were too dangerous for mafia to let them live.
For Borsellino, on the contrary, we know that there were negotiations going on between mafia and state authorities at least from the time of Falcone’s murder in April. Borsellino knew about these negotiations and was furious. He vehemently opposed to them both as a matter of principle and strategically. Negotiating with mafia was not only a betrayal of everything the he and Falcone and other colleagues had fought for but also a losing strategy.
Yesterday, Palermo investigators indicted 12 men on various charges ranging from subverting state institutions to perjury. There is a suspicion that at least some of the state authorities had more than an inkling of the impending massacre. The full story of who ordered the killings, put the bomb together and carried out the attack is still not known but much more will be revealed when the Palermo case is tried and when two other investigations come to trial.
Italians use the shorthand “the state” and “mafia” in accounts of the negotiations but both words also refer to single individuals with names, ranks or titles and responsibilities. They include carabinieri officers, secret service men and women and ministers as well as the mafiosi and various go-betweens. Since 2007, thanks to a mafioso who turned state’s evidence, some of Borsellino and Falcone’s colleagues have been investigating these allegations. Of the 12 due to stand trial in Palermo, six are mafiosi, all big names like Totò Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and Massimo Ciancimino, the son of former Palermo mayor, Vito, longtime link between mafia and the Christian Democratic party. Six were from “the state”; three carabiniere officers and three politicians, one ex-minister of the Interior, Nicola Mancino, an ex-minister for the South, Calogero Mannino and Berlusconi’s close associate, senator Marcello Dell’Utri who has already been convicted of links to mafia.
They are alleged to have negotiated the release of hundreds of mafiosi from special prison terms known as “Article 41 bis”, introduced to isolate convicted mafiosi from their business interests and power base. In return, the mafia did not kill Mannino and various other politicians threatened because they had not given the mafia the promised protection. In other words, it was a typical mafia racket, extortion-style but on a much grander scale than promising a shopkeeper that his store will not be blown up if he pays protection.
If all or even some of the accused are convicted, it will be a bombshell for Italian institutions. Even without convictions, and with what we already know, the effects on public institutions are devastating.
For decades, actually from the birth of the Italian state, there had been an intermingling of mafia and the political and state authorities, something much more intimate than a cops-and-robbers, live-and-let-live set-up. Political and business interests overlapped in the upper- and underworld with no clear border between the two. Mafia immediately recognised the potential of electoral politics and has exploited them for a century and a half. With the growth of the public sector, they used their political levers both for profit and for power.
The cosy relationship was punctuated by occasional trials of lower level mafiosi for crimes of violence. The break came in 1986-7 when the so-called maxi-trial convicted over 300 mafiosi accepting the prosecution’s case of a mafia organisation. This prosecution was led by Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino which is why they became prime targets for mafia.
Now, 20 years on, there is some chance that we will know about one episode of collusion between mafia, politics and law enforcement agencies.
But we should not hold our breath; in the most disturbing recent development, President Napolitano has demanded that two intercepted conversations between the former minister Mancino and Napolitano should be destroyed. Mancino had called the president’s legal counsellor seeking the president’s help in having his perjury case transferred to a different court (these conversations are on the record). Mancino then actually spoke to Napolitano and since his phone was under surveillance, the call was recorded. The prosecutor has said that the call is irrelevant for his case, but procedure demands that it is a judge who decrees the destruction of material after the defence has been able to intervene.
Instead, President Napolitano has taken the case to the Constitutional Court arguing that even when a person under criminal investigation calls the president, that call should be subject to presidential privilege.
Even more disturbing than Napolitano’s action, is that most of the press and political parties support him. The President represents Power and should not suffer the indignity of having his conversation recorded even when he is called by someone accused of a serious crime.
It was this lack of respect for Power in whatever form (and its converse, the respect for the Law) that killed Borsellino and Falcone and general dalla Chiesa a decade earlier.