Italian president called as witness in mafia case

ROME Thu Oct 17, 2013 9:12am EDT

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano waves to reporters at the Quirinale palace April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano waves to reporters at the Quirinale palace April 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

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ROME (Reuters) - A Sicilian court will call Italy's president to testify in an investigation into alleged secret talks between the mafia and the state in the wake of deadly bombings two decades ago, judicial sources said on Thursday.

Giorgio Napolitano was named as a witness in the probe, in which the Sicilian Mafia is alleged to have offered to end bombings which killed 21 people in the early 1990s, including judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, in exchange for softer jail sentences and conditions for convicted gangsters.

In a statement, Napolitano's office said he was waiting to see the full text of the court order to evaluate it. Current Senate President Pietro Grasso, a former anti-mafia prosecutor in Palermo where the probe is ongoing, will also be called to testify.

The Sicilian city was home to Falcone and Borsellino, old friends who were killed due to their efforts to fight the mafia in events that remain raw for Italians but are still shrouded in mystery despite a series of trials.

Judicial sources said the head of state would be asked about talks between the former Interior Minister Nicola Mancino and former presidential legal advisor Loris D'Ambrosio, but that Napolitano would not be questioned about the content of contested wiretaps of telephone conversations with Mancino.

Mancino is among six former state and police officials who prosecutors hope to try on charges relating to the alleged negotiations, along with six mob-connected figures.

Napolitano was dragged into the case when prosecutors tapped Mancino's phone and recorded four calls he made to the president. In portions of the wiretaps published by newspapers, Mancino complained about the prosecutors and appeared to be asking the president for help.

Italian media reported in April that the recordings had been destroyed, as ordered by the constitutional court last year.

That ruling took pressure off the 88-year old president, seen as the guarantor of Italy's fragile coalition government, but the new request for testimony threatens to re-open the uncomfortable issue.

(Reporting by Wladimiro Pantaleone; Writing by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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