‘Man lives with the society he finds around him.’Salvatore Lima, Christian Democratic politician,Murdered by the Mafia, March 1992.
By Thom L. Jones
Copyright © Thom L. Jones
If he was right in what he said, it happened on the afternoon of September 20th 1987; if it did happen, it represented very bad taste, at least. It is not after all a crime to kiss the boss of the Sicilian Mafia, perhaps very bad taste, but hardly a crime, However, the deeper implications of this embrace between two people, went far beyond the boundaries of personal behaviour.
Although one of the men, Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina was the undisputed head of what could perhaps be called the most significant organized crime association in the world, the other recipient of the kiss was a man once referred to as ‘the finest political mind in Europe.’
He had served the Italian government for over forty years. A member of the Christian Democratic Party, which was born out of the ashes of World War Two, he had held a variety of ministerial positions, including premier, foreign minister and seven times prime minister, holding cabinet posts in thirty governments since 1948. His name was Giulio Andreotti.
On that day in September 1987, he had come to Palermo to give two speeches at the annual Friendship Festival of the Sicilian branch of the DC party. Sometime during the day, if the story is true, between the first and second presentation, he went to a palatial home at number 3, piazza Vittorio Veneto, the residence of Ignazio Salvo, one of the richest businessmen and most powerful Demochristians on the island.
He and his late brother, Nino, had made their fortunes by operating a government sponsored private concession, as esattorie, agents collecting taxes in western Sicily—a primitive, but unbelievable lucrative operation and one that was supposedly also, a great source of corruption. The Antimafia Commission in 1976 had stressed that this tax revenue system was parasitic and a nest where the Mafia thrived. The brothers had been allowed to retain 10% of all taxes they gathered, as against the standard 3.3% levied in mainland Italy.
The two men had been identified by the Carabinieri in the early 1960’s as Mafiosi, but by the mid 1970’s, had risen to such a level of political power and wealth as to be seen to be above suspicion. At the time of the alleged meeting between Riina and Andreotti however, Ignazio Salvo was under house arrest, awaiting his appearance in the Mafia maxi-trial that would run in Palermo, from February 10th 1986, until December 17th 1987.
The man who would claim to be at the confluence of this political and Mafia power embrace on that sunny afternoon, September 20th 1987, Baldassare (Balduccio) Di Maggio, the reporter of the meeting, had started out life as a mechanic, before embarking on a career as a soldier in the Mafia cosche, or family, of Bernardo Brusca, based in San Giuseppe Jato, a small town located almost midway between Palermo and Corleone.
He had done his first homicide for the Mafia in 1981. Four-month’s later, he was initiated into the cosche by Brusca himself. By 1986, his personal killing count had risen to twenty-four; he had burned down the house of an ex-mayor of Palermo, done significant business in drug trafficking, and was involved in extortion in the construction business.
He became a personal favourite of Salvatore Riina, who himself was close to Brusca, and Riina often said of Di Maggio, Baldo’s in my heart. He made him his chauffeur and bodyguard. But things aren’t always what they seem, especially in the Mafia.
When Bernardo Brusca and his son, Giovanni, were sent to prison, Di Maggio became acting head of the cosche. It was a good time for him; he prospered, built himself a million dollar villa complete with swimming pools and original art works to decorate the walls. Then it all turned sour. Tiring of his wife, he fell for a girl that Brusca junior also lusted after. It started to turn nasty when Giovanni came out of prison in 1992 and wanted to take back his crime family. Riina presided over a sit-down between Di Maggio and the young Brusca.
When it was over, the Sicilian godfather kissed Di Maggio saying, ‘ Balduccio non e’ un’avancia buttat via!’ (Baldo’s not some old orange to chuck away!)
But Di Maggio knew a Judas kiss when he saw one, or at least, tasted it. He knew “Toto” Riina was at his most devious and dangerous when he came across like an old country boy. He read the lines not they way they were written but the way they were spoken. Uncle ‘Toto‘ had Baldo in his heart and would surely have him killed in due course. The Godfather’s link to the Bruscas was far more important than his affection for his driver. They were after all, his oldest and closest allies.
Taking his pregnant girl friend, he fled to Canada, but unable to get a visa, they returned to Italy, heading north to Novara, which lies close to Milan, where Di Maggio had friends.
The police arrested him there on January 8th 1993, and the thirty-nine year old Mafia boss sat down with the provincial commander of the Novara constabulary, Lieutenant Colonel Vincenzo Girliani, and started talking. He became another pentito, an informer, one of over two thousand who have emerged from the tortured killing fields of the Mafia in Sicily, since the first one, Leonardo Vitale, told an unbelieving Italian court about this thing, Cosa Nostra, called thing, in 1973.
The thought of being returned to Palermo’s Ucciardone Prison, populated by Riina’s killers, was what finally turned Di Maggio. I’m a dead man, but I’m a man of honour, and I can give you Riina, he said. And he did. He provided information that helped a special team of carabinieri, known as the ROS- Reparto operative Speciale, under the command of Brigadier Mario Mori- track down the most wanted criminal in Italian history. On January 15th 1993, Salvatore Riina was arrested in a Palermo suburb. He had been on the run from the law for over twenty-three years. He was also a monster of the first order, known across the Sicilian landscape as the beast.
He was born November 16th 1930, in Corleone, the small desolate town, set among the dry and barren landscape south of Palermo. He was one of five children of a poor peasant labourer. Riina never attended school, working first as a child then as a youth, in the fields of the vast estates that surrounded the town. He committed his first recorded crime in 1948, killing a man and wounding another in a brawl over a woman. He served only 6 years of a 16-year sentence, and on his release was taken under the wing of Luciano Leggio, who most likely brought him into the Corleone cosche.
Leggio was one of the most formidable and deadliest of Mafiosi, who grabbed control of the Corleone family after slaughtering its head, Dr. Michele Navarra in June 1958. With Riina by his side, Leggio pumped over a hundred bullets into Navarra, his car driver, another unfortunate doctor who just happened to be along for the ride that day.
Over the next five years, Leggio, along with Riina as his second-in-command, purged the Corleone family of its Navarra henchmen, killing at least 140 men in the process. With Leggio as the undisputed head, and Riina as his pit bull, the Corleonisi presented the younger, more viscous face of Cosa Nostra, earning for the town that nurtured it, a unique sobriquet from the Mafia’s American counterparts. They referred to it as Tombstone.
The seat of power for the Sicilian Mafia had always been Palermo, where at least nine different families operated, competing with each other for the spoils from smuggling, kidnapping and the huge rewards growing out of the contracting boom, fuelled by massive government subsidies following the end of the second world war. These cosche’s looked down on the Corleonisi, treating them as viddami, or peasants, as they waged their own internal wars. These culminated in the incident at Ciaculli in 1963, when seven carabinieri where blown to pieces by a bomb planted in a car. The deaths sent shockwaves through the Mafia, and an unprecedented crackdown by the authorities. 10,000 extra police flooded Sicily and over 1000 Mafiosi were arrested. Included in this sweep, were Leggio and Riina. They went to trial eventually, in 1969, and were acquitted.
In 1970, Leggio was again arrested, and this time, tried and convicted of the murder of Michele Navarra, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He disappeared before the verdict could be rendered, living the good life in exile until the police caught him in 1974. Moved to a top security prison on the island of Sardinia, he died there in November 1993.
Riina, after his 1969 acquittal, was deemed an undesirable, and ordered off into exile for four years to a village near Bologna, on the mainland. He never surrendered himself to the authorities however, disappearing on July 7th 1969. It was the last time that the police would see him until that morning in Palermo in 1993.
In that almost quarter of a century, there had been many changes in the Mafia. Something akin to a tsunami wave had swept away the old order, replacing it with a monstrous killing machine that would destroy literally anything that would dare to stand in its path - - police officers, politicians, judges, reporters, parliamentarians, even little children. Between 1979 and 1982, the ferocious Corleone Mafiosi killed all the top authorities in Sicily: the President of the regional parliament, the prefect, the chief prosecutor, the top investigative judge, and the head of the opposition Communist party.
There was even worse to come in the next ten years up to 1992. They killed the head of the Palermo investigative office, the head of the Palermo fugitive squad, an anti-Mafia investigator based in Palermo, the prosecutor of Palermo, businessmen, bureaucrats, Salvatore Lima, a top aid to Andreotti and then in two short months committed perhaps the most infamous assassination of all, destroying in massive bomb blasts, Judges Giovanni Falcone in May and Paolo Borsellino in July.
Giovanni Falcone had become a symbol in Italy’s prolonged and often fruitless struggle against the Mafia. He had long been on Riina’s hit-list because of his triumphs against the secret society, including the 1986 Palermo maxi-trial, which indicted 338 Mafiosi. Borsellino took over the job of the Sicilian standard bearer of the anti-Mafia crusade on Falcone’s death, and from his first hour in office, his days were also numbered.
The murders of Falcone and Borsellino were a watershed in Italy’s recognition of just how much a state of siege existed in Sicily. Public revulsion and anger at the massacre of these two brave and resolute magistrates helped remove once and for all, the mystique that had surrounded the Mafia for so many years. They were seen at last, to be simply savage, unmitigated killers, without conscience or scruples of any kind. A monstrous killing machine and Riina was the engine driver at the controls. And then there was the kiss.
The disclosure of Di Maggio about the meeting between Andreotti and Riina was to say the least, of more than passing interest. It was an event that could be likened to President Ronald Regan meeting John Gotti in that chintzy little room above The Ravenite, and exchanging hugs and kisses.
Riina, arguably, the most notorious mobster in the world, cohabiting with a man who represented law and order at the highest level, a man who had been the actual head of a country. Could it possibly have happened?
At a famous trial in 1947, following the massacre of peasant farmers and their families enjoying a Labour Day picnic at Portella della Ginestra, one of the defendants had cried out in his statement, ‘Mafia, police, state, they are all one body, like Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’
Did the meeting between Andreotti and Riina simply confirm that this unholy trinity was still alive and well forty years later?
Andreotti’s link into the Mafia had first been disclosed in 1985 by the ‘Prince of Turncoats,’ Tommaso Buscetta, the Palermo mafioso, who was the first major pentito. After the extermination of the greater party of his biological family, and his cosche by the rival Greco-Corleonesi families between 1981 and 1984, he decided to collaborate with the authorities. Over the years, a further twenty-six Mafiosi would give evidence linking the politician to the secret society. But the evidence of Di Maggio was the most startling.
On that balmy, September afternoon, he drove a white VW Golf turbo to a warehouse in Palermo, picked up his master, Riina, and delivered him to that address in the piazza Vittorio Veneto. Another Mafiosi met them, a man who he remembered was called Rabito, Salvo’s personal assistant, who led them through the building, and into a room with a parquet floor covered by a big carpet. The room was stuffed with bookcases and tables and sofas, and the walls were hung with painting. On one chair he recognized Senor Salvatore Lima, arguably the most powerful Christian Democratic politician in Sicily. The ex-mayor of Palermo, he had been mentioned by the Italian Parliament anti-Mafia commission 149 times, and had been described as one of the pillars of the Mafia. On another chair sat the Honourable Giulio Andreotti, who he recognized without a shadow of a doubt. His testimony was quite explicit:
‘I shook hands with the parliamentarians and kissed Ignazio Salvo…Riina, on the other hand, kissed all three persons, Andreotti, Lima and Salva.’
And there was the kiss: a sign of respect, a bonding between and a confirmation among men of equals, an embrace that would come to shake the very foundation on which stood the history and democracy of one of the oldest, civilized countries in the world. On that hot, summer Sicilian afternoon, the small, fragile, hunchbacked minister of foreign affairs rising from the velvet softness of the sofa, to be enfolded by the equally small, but thickset and stocky uncouth mass murderer, who had terrorized part of Italy for almost a quarter of a century. lo Zio Giulio, Uncle Giulio, as he was known in the Mafia, and ‘Toto’ the beast, its omnipotent head.
The Palermo chief prosecutor, Giancarlo Caselli, compiled a dossier on Andreotti, and in February 1995 laid 96 formal charges against the life senator, alleging his association with the Mafia, not in the passive tense, but as a man active within its power structure.
The case began on March 27th. 1993 when the office of the Palermo Public Prosecutor requested authorization to investigate Andreotti. The indictments ran to 90,000 pages and Andreotti was ordered to stand trial in September 1995. The thrust of the prosecutor’s case was that Andreotti, in exchange for a key bloc of Sicilian votes, delivered by the Mafia, aided and abetted them from his position of vast influence in Rome, serving in essence, as the Mafia’s protector.
The major witnesses against the defendant were Mafia informers, including Di Maggio; the prosecution devoting seven pages of their indictment testimony to that kiss. It was a long and torturous litigation that came to be known in Italy, as ‘The trial of the Century.’ There would be 250 hearings, 340 witnesses, and 800,00 procedural pages of testimony spread over the next six years.
In 1996, Andreotti went on trial again, this time, in Perugia, 150 miles north of Rome, accused in the complicity in the murder of investigative journalist, Mino Pecorelli, who had been gunned down in March 1979.
A poll in Italy at the time of the trials, showed 67% of the population believed that Andreotti was in bed with the Mafia, but that 54% were sure he would be acquitted; perhaps Italians were simply resigned to that fact that crime and politics in their country were long time bed-fellows. The Sicilian Mafia is perhaps the original and incomparable prototype of what organized crime and politics can achieve when working hand-in-hand.
On September 24th, 1999, Andreotti was acquitted on the murder charge in Perugia, and a month later, a panel of three judges in Palermo, also acquitted him in his trial on the Mafia conspiracies charges. The complex Italian judiciary process was unable to accept proof of guilt, based as it was almost entirely on the words of the penitenti.
The public were less than impressed by the fact that Di Maggio for example, had been awarded 500 million lira by the government (less than 200,000 US dollars), and that while in the state protection program, he had somehow been able to stalk, and murder an opponent.
Riina is serving twelve consecutive life sentences for his life of crime and terrorism. It is save to assume he will never be released. Things wouldn’t get better either. In November 2001 his eldest son, Giovanni, was convicted in the homicide of Giuseppe Giammona, killed in Corleone, on January 28th. 1995, along with his sister, Giovanna and her husband Francisco Saporito, and sentenced to life in prison. The younger son, Giuseppe, went down in December 2004 for 14 years on various charges. Things would not turn out so hot for Di Maggio as well.
He was arrested on October 14th. 1997 for accessory to murder. In the May of 1996, he had slipped away from his police guard, and travelled to Altofonte, a small town eight miles from Palermo, and on August 30th. had murdered Giuseppe Carfi, a brother-in-law of local Mafia boss, Andrea Di Carlo. Less than six months after Di Maggio’s arrest, on March 21st. 1998, his brother, Emmanuelle, was riddled with eleven bullets while driving on a highway near Palermo. Within two years, Di Maggio would be confined to a wheel chair, suffering from progressive paralysis, the government moving him from prison to prison, as it agonized over whether or not to release him on compassionate grounds.
Andreotti finally gave up politics and retired from public life. Although his last Hurrah in 2008, helped to tumble the Italian government and the resignation of Romana Prodi, making way for the re-election of Silvio Bersculoni, a man who has almost as many connections to the Mafia as Andreotti himself. He writes regular articles for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and apparently keeps himself busy even at the age of ninety-one. If ever there was a survivor it is him. Italians would say,
‘He’s behind everything, but he’s so smart, he never gets caught’
There was even a popular song about him, and one of its lines went: ‘Who stole the cake? Andreotti. Who’s behind the Mafia? Andreotti.’
But some things never change. Visit the bleak and barren countryside near Corleone today, and you will still see herds of sheep, goats, cattle and horses being driven by men on mules, everyone carrying a lupara, the traditional Mafia sawn-off shotgun, slung over his shoulder. These are the operators in the old-style Mafia, ripping off the landowners and the contadini, the peasants, with their schemes of extortion, rustling and whenever necessary resorting to violence and murder.
In an interview before he died, Judge Falcone said, ‘The Mafia is a human phenomenon, and like all human phenomena, it has a beginning, it has a peak and it has an end.’
It may have been wishful thinking.The Mafia is oppression, arrogance, greed, self-gratification, power and hegemony above and against all others. It is not an abstract concept, or a state of mind, or a literary term. It is a criminal organization regulated by unwritten but iron and inexorable rules. The myth of a courageous and generous ‘man of honour‘ must be destroyed, because a Mafiosi is just the opposite.Caesar Terranova, Italian magistrate murdered bythe Mafia, September 25th. 1979.