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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Italy Rocked by Andreotti Verdict

ROME -- Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called it "the ultimate stage of a judicial scheme" to undermine Italian political leaders and an example of "justice gone mad."

Fausto Bertinotti, the leader of the Refounded Communist Party, expressed "large and deep disconcertment" about it, saying Italy had been plunged into a state of uncertainty "in which no one believes anyone anymore."

Coming from two leaders who occupy vastly different points of the political spectrum here, those reactions to the sentencing of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti to 24 years in prison in a 1979 murder case underscored the disbelief, distress and national soul-searching that swept through Italy on Monday.

Andreotti, 83, had previously been acquitted on charges of complicity with the Mafia in the 1979 killing of a journalist who supposedly had damaging information about him, but an appeals court on Sunday overturned that ruling. Andreotti continued Monday to deny any wrongdoing, calling the appeals court judgment "an absurdity," and his lawyers continued to say he would appeal it.

But the lack of a final resolution of his fate did not stave off serious questions and deep concerns about the peculiarly combative relationship in Italy between prosecutors and politicians and about whether it had gone too far.

Leaders of all political stripes articulated doubts about the solidity of the case against Andreotti and, in some cases, about the credibility of the Italian judicial system, which has often been accused of bias and political crusading.

"This says that something is broken in the correct relationship between the judiciary and the nation," said Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's minister for European Union policy.

Some disagreed with that assessment. Antonio Di Pietro, an Italian member of the European Parliament, said there was no obvious reason to doubt the verdict of the appeals court, which includes ordinary citizens on its jury as well as members of the judiciary.

"Who's to say that one court is guilty of bias because there was a different decision?" said Di Pietro, a former prosecutor who focused on politicians during an early 1990s anticorruption campaign that helped bring down Andreotti's once-dominant Christian Democratic Party. "And why is everyone saying that the second decision is wrong?"

There were many possible reasons for the criticism of the decision, including the fact that the case against Andreotti hinged on the testimony of a Mafia turncoat.

In addition, when the Christian Democrats fell, former members scattered to different sides of the right-left divide, so that Andreotti has allies everywhere. For all of them, the judgment against him was not only an embarrassment, but also an insult to a man who was arguably the most powerful and influential figure in postwar Italian government.

"Andreotti is not somebody you just pass on the road," said Giuliano Ferrara, a former Cabinet minister who now edits Il Foglio, a conservative newspaper. "He has been prime minister seven times."

Several political analysts also noted that Italians might be at a point of utter exasperation with the constant charges and countercharges of corruption between prosecutors and politicians, which have frequently thrown the country into turmoil.

"People are tired," said Roberto d'Alimonte, a political scientist at the University of Florence.

In fact, Berlusconi is currently on trial for false accounting and bribery in connection with past business dealings, but his legal travails have done little to diminish his popularity with Italians. Many of them seem receptive to his claim that he is a victim of overzealous, politically motivated prosecutors.

Berlusconi has also called for changes in the Italian judicial system, in which prosecutors and judges are not elected and are in some ways less accountable to the public than their peers in other countries.

Politicians on both the right and left said that now, with the sentencing of Andreotti, Berlusconi may find more support for his proposals than before.