PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - An Italian judge on Thursday ordered 10 people, including an ex-interior minister and jailed mob boss Salvatore Riina, to stand trial for their role in secret negotiations between the Sicilian mafia and the state in the 1990s.
The trial stems from a murky period in Italian history when the “Bribesville” corruption investigations caused the downfall of the political establishment and the Sicilian mob set off a string of bombs that killed 21 people in 1992 and 1993.
Judge Piergiorgio Morosini set the first hearing for May 27 in the high-security “bunker” courthouse in Palermo.
Prosecutors allege that senior politicians held talks with the mafia after judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were assassinated by the mob when a bomb blew up under the highway they travelling on in May 1992.
The state’s willingness to enter talks after Falcone’s murder encouraged further bombings, prosecutors say, and prompted the assassination of prosecutor Paolo Borsellino because he had learned of and opposed the negotiations.
In exchange for stopping the bombings, the Sicilian mafia wanted lighter sentences and softer jail conditions for convicted gangsters.
Four convicted mob bosses, two politicians, three high-ranking police officials and the son of a deceased mobster will stand trial. The police officials and mobster’s son acted as mediators in the negotiations, the prosecution says.
Nicola Mancino, who was interior minister during the period of the alleged negotiations, is being tried for false testimony, while the other nine defendants face the charges that they sought to blackmail the state. All deny any wrongdoing.
“I am sure that the evidence that I have provided during the preliminary hearings will prove my total innocence,” Mancino said in a statement.
The Corleone-born Riina, known as “Shorty” or “the Beast”, took control of Cosa Nostra (“Our Thing”), as the Sicilian mafia is known in Italy, in a bloody mob war in 1981-82. He was captured in Palermo in 1993 after 24 years as a fugitive.
Reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone in Palermo, writing by Steve Scherer in Rome, editing by Mark Heinrich