High-profile mafia trial opens in Sicily

A high-profile trial opened in Sicily on Monday on alleged negotiations between government officials and mafia godfathers following a series of bomb attacks and assassinations in the 1990s.

High-profile mafia trial opens in Sicily
Marcello Dell'Utri (L): Marcello Paternostro/AFP. Toto Riina (R): Ho/AFP

Ten people including then interior minister Nicola Mancino and then mafia leader Toto Riina are on trial and prosecutors have called as witnesses top figures like President Giorgio Napolitano.

"I fought against the mafia. I cannot be in the same trial as mafia bosses," Mancino said before the start of the hearing, Italian media reported.

"We will ask for the trial to be scrapped," said Mancino, who is only charged with false testimony.

A few anti-mafia activists heckled Mancino as he came out of the courtroom after the hearing shouting "Shame!" and "Mafia out of the state!"

The hearing was immediately adjourned to Friday following a request by prosecutors and defence lawyers for more time to consider applications submitted for civil plaintiffs in the trial.

The far-left Rifondazione Comunista party is so far the only plaintiff. Party leader Paolo Ferrero told reporters he was taking part in the trial in honour of "all the people killed by the mafia".

Prosecutors allege that after the assassinations of a top anti-mafia judge in 1992, senior Italian officials engaged in secret talks with the mafia.

The accusation is that they agreed to be lenient, allowing for fewer trials and easier prison conditions, in exchange for an end to the attacks.

Mancino is being tried with ex-senator Marcello dell'Utri and three former top police officers: Antonio Subranni, Mario Mori and Giuseppe De Donno.

Former mafia bosses Riina, Leoluca Bagarella and Antonio Cina, as well as mafia turncoats Giovanni Brusca and Massimo Ciancimino, are also on trial.

As part of the investigation, prosecutors wiretapped a private conversation between Mancino and Napolitano, which created a stand-off between the prosecutor's office and the Italian presidency.

After a court ruling, the wiretap has been destroyed and its contents have not been revealed.

Collusion between Italian officials and the mafia has often been alleged but few cases have gone to trial and even fewer have resulted in convictions. 

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Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.