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Anniversary of death of anti-mafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino

Italian judge and chief prosecutor Paolo Borsellino died 26 years ago today. The Shift News looks at developments in investigations into his death and the role the police played in derailing investigations.

Explosion Borsellino Via D'Amelio
The aftermath of the massive explosion that killed Paolo Borsellino in Via D'Amelio

On Sunday, 19 July 1992, at around 4.57pm, a bomb exploded in Via D’ Amelio, Palermo, killing Italian judge and chief prosecutor Paolo Borsellino, 54, together with five police officers.

Borsellino had gone to pick up his mother to take her to her scheduled doctor’s appointment. He had emerged from his car and was walking with his bodyguards to his mother’s apartment when the remote-controlled bomb exploded.

The dynamite was packed into a Fiat car parked in the vicinity. One report, based on the testimony of Mafia boss Toto’ Riina, said it was the button he pressed on the intercom of his mother’s apartment building that set off the bomb.

The explosion blew Borsellino’s right arm off and shattered windows five-storeys above the street, scattering wreckage and engulfing the street with flame and smoke. Neighbours described the explosion as an “earthquake”.

Via D'Amelio
Via D’Amelio

The officers who were killed together with Borsellino included Emanuela Loi (the first Italian policewoman to be killed in the line of duty), as well as Agostino Catalano, Walter Cosina, Vincenzo Li Muli and Claudio Traina.

The ambush on Borsellino and his guards came less than two months after another bomb hidden under a highway took the life of Judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife and the three guards accompanying them.

Borsellino worked with Falcone on the anti-mafia investigations (the maxi-trial) in which more than 300 Cosa Nostra members were charged in a historic anti-mafia trial in 1987. After the trial, Borsellino and Falcone’s names were on the mafia’s hit list.

Giovanne Falcone and Paolo Borsellino
Giovanne Falcone and Paolo Borsellino

Following the assassinations, a leading academic expert on the mafia had said: “The assassination is not a challenge to the State. It is an indisputable victory over the State and its laws. It is a defeat for everyone working for a moral and political renewal in Italy. If Cosa Nostra had eliminated a very senior politician or prime minister, it would not have had the same effect. The devastating consequences of this crime will be felt for months and years.”

Twenty-six years later, the two assassinations remain engraved in people’s minds, and investigations are still ongoing.

Recently, a 1,856-page report on the outcome of an inquiry called ‘Processo Quater’ drawn up by Italian judges was deposited in court. It looked into unanswered questions on police responsibility in the investigation, detailing how top police officials in Sicily derailed investigations through induced testimonies.

The report showed police informer Vincenzo Scarantino had been forced to say that he was involved in Borsellino’s assassination by the former head of the Palermo mobile police squad Arnaldo La Barbera.

The judges described this as “one of the biggest false leads in the history of the Italian judiciary”.

La Barbera was the police officer who coordinated the investigation into Borsellino’s assassination. The report says La Barbera “had a fundamental role” in setting up Scarantino’s false confession.

The documents also refer to the involvement of La Barbera in the disappearance of Borsellino’s ‘Agenda Rossa’ – the red diary in which the chief prosecutor noted progress in anti-mafia investigations.

Borsellino had made it a point to list important details and names related to the mafia investigations after Falcone’s assassination.

Borsellino’s son had testified that he had seen his father put the red diary in his briefcase before the chief prosecutor had left home to pick up his mother. Yet, following the explosion the diary was never found, even though the armoured car in which Borsellino had travelled had not been extensively damaged. In fact, the briefcase and its contents had been returned to the family, except for the diary.

Suspicions of La Barbera’s involvement in the diary’s disappearance were also sustained by his aggressive attitude towards Borsellino’s daughter, who campaigned for years for justice for her father, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The same newspaper also reported earlier this month that the prosecutor of Caltanissetta has requested the indictment of three police officers – Mario Bo, Michele Ribaudo, Fabrizio Mattei – for misleading the investigations in the tragedy that occurred 26 years ago in Via D’ Amelio. They formed what the Italian media has dubbed ‘Team La Barbera’.

La Barbera will not stand trial because he died in 2002.

The judges’ report is accusing police investigators of misleading the investigation through undue influence. The anomalies in the investigation – even with regards to Scarantino’s false testimony – were characterised by an impressive number of retractions and inconsistencies.

Borsellino’s family dedicated their lives to seeking justice for Borsellino’s assassination. His wife Agnese died on 5 May 2013, but his daughters, Lucia and Fiammetta, as well as his son Manfredi, continue to pursue the truth.

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