ITALY

Giulio Andreotti, Italy’s ex-PM surrounded by intrigue

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 May, 2013, 8:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 2:09am

Former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti, who died on Monday at the age of 94, was a behind-the-scenes power broker of Italian post-war political life, accused of shadowy links with the mafia and the Vatican.

A government minister for over three decades, Andreotti was involved through all the upheavals that rocked Italy from the second world war until his retirement from mainstream political life in 1992, after which he stayed on as senator-for-life.

Born in Rome on January 14, 1919, he was elected to parliament in 1946 and became a junior minister – at the start of a lengthy career.

He was known for his love of political intrigue and close ties with the Vatican, beginning his career with the pro-Catholic Christian Democratic party before going on to be prime minister seven times and a minister 21 times.

With his stooped figure and bespectacled, hangdog expression, Andreotti was a controversial figure who was inevitably associated with a period of extremist political militancy that rocked Italy in the 1970s and 1980s.

At various points in his career he was nicknamed “The Untouchable”, “The Black Pope” and “The Divo” in an award-winning 2008 film on his life.

Andreotti was once convicted to 24 years in prison for ordering the murder of an investigative journalist in 1979 after a high-profile trial, but an appeals court cleared him in 2003 and he served no time in prison.

“I’m being blamed for everything, except for the Punic wars because I was too young then,” the caustic senator, who became famous for his put-downs, once said in an ironic reference to the battles between ancient Rome and Carthage.

He was also blamed for his intransigence when his political rival Aldo Moro, a former prime minister, was kidnapped by the Red Brigades in 1978.

As prime minister, Andreotti refused to negotiate and Moro was found dead in the boot of a car parked on a Rome backstreet after two months in captivity.

Andreotti habitually attended mass every morning even when in office and helped shape the Christian Democratic party founded by Alcide de Gasperi.

“While Alcide spoke to God, Andreotti spoke to the clergy,” who had the advantage of being able to vote, a famous Italian journalist once wrote of him.

Marco Tarchi, a professor of political science at the University of Florence, once said: “He knows all the corridors of powers and the underbelly of power and he does not hesitate to use any means necessary.”

A foreign minister under the Socialist Bettino Craxi in the early 1980s, he forged an opening to the Arab world and the Soviet bloc.

The United States never really trusted him despite his staunch anti-Communist credentials and, observers say, rightly so as Libya was tipped off by Italy about an imminent US bombardment in April 1986.

He was the butt of many jokes and was popularly dubbed “The Hunchback”.

A famous comedy sketch once represented Andreotti ringing a doorbell to hell and the devil opening the door and saying: “Daddy’s home!”