An appeals court in Sicily has acquitted a close associate of former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi of having negotiated with the Mafia during the 1990s

ROME — An appeals court in Palermo, Sicily, acquitted a close associate of former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday of having negotiated with the Mafia during the 1990s.

In 2018, a lower court convicted Marcello Dell’Utri, who had been a senator for Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia party, of acting as a liaison between Italian state institutions and Cosa Nostra bosses in Sicily and gave him a 12-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors alleged Dell’Utri was part of purported efforts to convince mobsters to stop a bombing campaign, which had included targets like the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, in exchange for authorities easing up on Mafia crackdowns and loosening particularly rigid prison conditions for top mobsters.

But the appeals court in Palermo ruled that Dell’Utri had done no such thing.

Dell’Utri was one of the forces behind the founding of Forza Italia in the early 1990s. Berlusconi served three stints as Italy’s premier.

In a separate, earlier case, Dell’Utri was convicted of Mafia association, a verdict upheld in 2014 by Italy’s highest criminal court. He received a seven-year sentence and was released in 2019 after serving more than five years.

Dell’Utri, who was free on his own recognizance in the run-up to the appeals court case, wasn’t in the courtroom to hear of his acquittal, Sky TG24 TV reported from Palermo.

Top bosses of the Sicily-based Cosa Nostra unleashed the 1990s bombing campaign. In 1993, five car bombs hit a basilica and a church in Rome, the Uffizi art museum in Florence and an art gallery in Milan. In all, 10 people were killed and dozens were wounded.

Earlier that year, long time top Mafia chieftain Salvatore “Toto” Riina was arrested in an apartment in Palermo after decades as a fugitive. The bombings were ordered by the Mafia as retaliation and to intimidate the Italian government from cracking down organized crime, according to prosecutors.

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