One of the most famous kisses in Italian history was anything but romantic.
It allegedly occurred in 1987 when the head of the powerful Corleonesi mafia faction, Salvatore ‘The Beast’ Riina, met with the then-former Italian PM, Giulio Andreotti.
At the time, Riina – the godfather of Sicilian mafia who is believed to have personally killed up to 40 enemies – was waging a savage war on the Palermo mafia. He would eventually push his luck too far by orchestrating the death of antimafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone in 1992.
Andreotti returned to the PM’s chair in 1989, but spent much of his later life fighting allegations he had allegedly collaborated with the Palermo mafia to gain and maintain his 20-year grip on political power.
The story of their meeting was told by Balduccio Di Maggio, a mafia turncoat who appeared to testify against Riina and Andreotti in 1993, claiming he had seen them embrace and share the famous “kiss of honour”.
“When we walked in, the people present were the Hon. Giulio Andreotti and the Hon. Salvo Lima,” Di Maggio told the magistrate.
Salvatore Lima was a Christian Democrat who supported Andreotti and supposedly aided any collaboration he might have had with the Palermo mafia. The meeting between the three was held at the house of another Andreotti associate, Ignazio Salvo.
Both Lima and Salvo were murdered just months before the 1993 trial began.
“They stood up and I shook their hand and kissed Ignazio Salvo,” Di Maggio said. “Riina, however, greeted with a kiss all three people. I left soon after.”
“I am absolutely certain that I recognized Giulio Andreotti because I saw him many times on television.
“I interpreted the kiss that Andreotti and Salvatore Riina exchanged as a sign of respect.”
Di Maggio was Riina’s driver at the time. It was he who betrayed Riina to the police and started the process that ended The Beast’s 23 years on the run, landing him in Milan’s Opera prison where he still resides today.
Andreotti, who served seven terms as Italy’s prime minister, was acquitted of meeting Riina in a 1993 trial, but not cleared until 2004.
He was a life Senator in Italy’s parliament when Di Maggio made his famous statement in 1993 and he stuck to his story, claiming he never even seen Riina before.
Now, a conversation secretly recorded between Riina and another convicted mafia boss, Alberto Lorusso, at Opera prison, may have cleared some of the mud from Andreotti’s name.
This week, at an investigation into mafia-state relations which has run since May last year, Riina is heard to chuckle and tell Lorusso:
“Balduccio Di Maggio says that I accompanied him and kissed Andreotti.”
He’s shaking his head at the time, which Andreotti supporters are taking to mean the kiss was entirely fictional.
Unfortunately, if they want to take Riina’s word at face value, they also have to accept the statement that followed, delivered to Lorusso in a hushed whisper:
“But I met him with my bodyguard.”
Remember, Andreotti and Riina “never met”.
The trial is being held in a high-security bunker courtroom in Palermo.
Earlier this year, Riina was recorded telling Lorusso he wanted Palermo’s anti-mafia prosecutors dead.
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