In a move unusual for a politician of his stature, Italy's 89-year-old president Giorgio Napolitano testified in Rome Tuesday at an anti-mafia trial in which several government ministers and organized crime leaders are accused of holding secret talks during a period of intense violence in the 1990s.
Napolitano, who is not suspected of wrongdoing, said he had "no useful knowledge" to contribute to the proceedings, which journalists were barred from attending. His involvement in the case stems from four telephone conversations held with Nicola Mancino, who as Italy's then-interior minister was accused of giving false testimony concerning the government's dealings with the mafia.
Napolitano did not corroborate the prosecution's account.
"The president never spoke explicitly of a negotiation between the state and mafia, and he called talk about any unspeakable agreements 'conjecture without any objective elements of proof,'" Nicoletta Piergentili, a defense lawyer, said.
Organized crime has plagued Italy for centuries. But the 1992 murder of crusading anti-mafia advocate Giovanni Falcone, his wife, and their three bodyguards galvanized particular outrage and calls for justice. According to the prosecution, Italy's then-government entered secret negotiations with mafia leaders to lessen the violence in exchange for reduced prison sentences. The alleged deal didn't work. Two months after the bombing in which Falcone was killed, his partner and successor Paolo Borsellino lost his life in a similar attack.