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Mafia bosses get 16 life sentences

Latest update : 2008-06-22

Leaders of a powerful Naples mafia clan received 16 life sentences on Thursday after one of Italy's biggest ever trials.

An Italian appeals court meted out 16 life sentences Thursday to bosses of a powerful mafia clan from the Naples region, following one of the biggest trials in the country's history.

The so-called Spartacus trial involved 36 defendants, all linked to the Casalesi clan from the southern Casal di Principe area near Caserta. The defendants were appealing prison sentences handed down in late 2005.

On top of the life sentences, 14 of the others received sentences of between two and 30 years behind bars.

The verdict was received with "great satisfaction" by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and across the political spectrum.

The court followed the recommendations of the prosecution in pronouncing its verdict for the accused, who include the alleged head of the clan, Francesco "Sandokan" Schiavone.

Among the many accusations was murder -- namely by mafia bosses Francesco Bidognetti, Michele Zagaria, and Antonio Iovine, as well as Schiavone, who has been in a high security prison since 1998.

Zagaria and Iovine are still on the run.

Extreme security measures were taken for the trial, with the court housed in a top security prison in the Poggioreale district of Naples. Only two of the defendants -- locked in "cages" -- were in the heavily guarded courtroom to hear the verdict. Others followed it via videolink from their prison cells.

Some 500 witnesses testified in the Spartacus trial, which opened in 1998 in Santa Maria Capua Vetere north of Naples, including about 20 mafia turncoats who gave key evidence against their former partners in crime.

A dramatic trial saw five people involved in the case -- including an interpreter -- assassinated, as well as a judge and two journalists threatened during hearings.

These episodes are part of the clan's "strategy of terror" that could continue after the trial is finished, a parliamentary mafia commissioner, former senator Lorenzo Diana, told AFP.

"The clan is scared," mafia author Roberto Saviano wrote in the daily La Repubblica on Wednesday. Saviano wrote the book "Gomorra," which revealed the incredible reach of the Camorra clans.

The writer has had to live with a police escort since 2006. He attended the court verdict to show he was "not afraid," he said.

While Saviano said the verdict was a "victory of justice," he warned the state not to "let down its guard" against the Camorra.

By means of a territorial war that has cost some 1,000 lives in 30 years, the Casalesi criminal cartel has progressively spread its reach.

Saviano described the Casalesi as "a confederation grouping all the Camorra families from the province of Caserta," comprised of "violent heads of business, murderous managers ... all with their own army and all linked by economic interests in most sectors."

According to the investigation, the power and activities of the clan span beyond Italy's borders and extend to eastern Europe and include the trafficking of drugs, arms and toxic waste, as well as prostitution.

Several cases that fall under Spartacus are still under investigation, delving into the clan's political and legal links.

Date created : 2008-06-20