May 6 (Bloomberg) -- Giulio Andreotti, the seven-time Italian prime minister whose legacy was marred by an indictment for collusion with the Mafia, has died. He was 94.
He died today at his home in Rome. No cause was given. Andreotti was hospitalized last year with heart problems stemming from a respiratory infection.
“One of the very best people has died, someone who was truly unique,” said Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer and former member of Parliament who defended Andreotti against the Mafia accusations. “Everyone who knew him will feel a terrible loss.”
In a political career that spanned six decades, Andreotti came to embody the highs and lows of Italian postwar politics. He was named a senator-for-life in 1991, before being implicated in the so-called Clean Hands corruption investigation and prior to standing trial for allegedly getting friends in the Sicilian Mafia to murder a journalist who wanted to discredit him.
“Power tires those who don’t have it,” Andreotti once said about his own endurance in Italy’s rough-and-tumble political world.
A devout Catholic and former altar boy, Andreotti’s career was inextricably linked to the Christian Democrats, the party that played a role in every post-World War II government until dissolving in July 1993 amid the Clean Hands probe. Milan prosecutors uncovered a network of illegal party financing that led to the demise of the Christian Democrats and Italy’s Socialists, the other dominant party of the day.
Andreotti and the Christian Democrats helped Italy shed its Fascist legacy and transformed an economy devastated by World War II into one of the world’s richest industrialized nations. During his 50-year-career, he held practically every ministerial post.
“He was a man of faith that did great things for this country,” Rocco Buttiglione, a former Cabinet minister and Christian Democratic colleague of Andreotti, told SkyTG24 in an interview.
The Clean Hands investigations decimated his party, and the charges that he colluded with the Sicilian Mafia further tainted his reputation, ending his lifelong ambition to wrap up his political career as president of the republic, the only position that had eluded him.
Worked at Vatican
Giulio Andreotti was born on Jan. 14, 1919, in Rome, as the youngest of three children. After the death of his father, Andreotti was raised by his mother on a state pension.
He graduated from law school and got an unusual start in politics via the Vatican. He took a job working in the Vatican library, where he met his mentor, Alcide de Gasperi, a Catholic politician who worked among the holy texts while waiting for the fall of the Fascist regime. De Gasperi took Andreotti under his wing and made the 28-year-old an undersecretary when he became prime minister of Italy’s first post-war government in 1947.
In the aftermath of Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship, Italy’s new constitution created an electoral system based on proportional representation, designed to keep any party from accumulating too much power. The system also led to fragmented, multiparty coalitions that fueled political instability. Italian governments from 1948 through former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s second administration that began in 2001 and ended in 2006, have lasted an average of 10 months.
Andreotti was instrumental in shaping foreign policy, leading Italy into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations and making it one of the founding members of the European Union. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once called Andreotti “the only Italian with a real interest in foreign policy.”
Andreotti shared the staunch anti-communist stance adopted by the U.S. and throughout the Cold War successfully limited the power of the Communist Party, even as it enjoyed high levels of popular support.
During his fourth term as prime minister in 1978, he presided over one of the darkest chapters in modern Italian political history, when Christian Democrat party leader and former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the terrorist Red Brigades group. Andreotti refused to negotiate and after 55 days Moro was shot dead and later found in the trunk of a car parked on street in central Rome.
Moro was targeted because he was one of the principal architects of the 1976 Historic Compromise, an agreement that gave the Communist Party an informal say in the government on the condition they wouldn’t vote against the Christian Democrats. Andreotti supported the move in order to bring the Communists within the Christian Democrats’ sphere of influence.
In the end, the agreement effectively co-opted the Communists and limited their influence at the expense of the Christian Democrats. Initially though, the alliance polarized Italy and angered the U.S. and even contributed to the rise of the Red Brigades and a decade of terrorist violence by both the right and the left known as the Years of Lead.
The Moro affair came back to haunt Andreotti. A court found him guilty of ordering the 1979 Mafia murder of Mino Pecorelli to stop the Sicilian journalist from publishing a book that allegedly contained diaries Moro wrote while being held by the Red Brigades and detailing Andreotti’s ties to organized crime and the U.S. secret services. In 2002, at the age of 83, the senator-for-life was sentenced to life in prison. In Oct. 2003, Italy’s highest appeals court reversed the ruling.
Andreotti’s career was dogged by accusations of Mafia links. He was indicted for colluding with the Sicilian Mafia and protecting its leaders in exchange for votes. Italy’s highest appeals court eventually acquitted him in 2004, saying his ties had lasted only until 1980 and the statute of limitations had kicked in.
The Mafia was always linked to efforts to contain the influence of the Communist Party in Italy and turned out to be a natural ally for the Christian Democrats, whose power base rested in Italy’s rural south and who were committed to denying power to the Communists, according to Alexander Stille in his book on the Mafia, “Excellent Cadavers.”
To shore up support for the party in Italy, Andreotti enlisted the help of Salvatore Lima, the mayor of Palermo. Lima helped deliver Sicily to the Christian Democrats to allow Andreotti to become prime minister for the first time in 1972.
Even amid evidence that Lima had links to the Mafia, Andreotti made him a minister in his government in 1974. Lima was later murdered in Sicily for allegedly not using his political ties to prevent convictions of hundreds of Mafia bosses in the first so-called maxi trial in 1992.
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