Ex-Berlusconi minister acquitted of mafia charges

'Finally it's over' says Saverio Romano

Ex-Berlusconi minister acquitted of mafia charges

(ANSA) - Palermo, July 17 - A Palermo judge acquitted former agriculture minister Saverio Romano of mafia involvement on Tuesday. "Finally it's over," said Romano, who faced eight years in prison if convicted. Accusations against the former minister in ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet included associating with high-ranking Cosa Nostra members in exchange for the Sicilian mafia's political support. Disquiet over Romano's place in government began to grow when Palermo prosecutors requested last July that he be sent to trial. The prosecutors were forced to make the indictment request after a preliminary-hearing judge rejected their petition for the case to be dropped. In March 2011 President Giorgio Napolitano had expressed reservations about Romano's appointment as agriculture minister when swearing him in because the MP was among the suspects in a probe into politicians allegedly having dealings with mafiosi in exchange for electoral support. The investigation led to the former governor of Sicily, Salvatore Cuffaro, being imprisoned in January 2011, when his final appeal against a seven-year term for helping the mafia failed. Romano has vigorously denied the eight-year-old accusations made by informers against him, denounced an alleged campaign of "misinformation", and accused prosecutors of trying to "usurp" parliamentary prerogatives. In response, former Clean Hands graftbuster Antonio Di Pietro, the leader of an anti-Berlusconi party, had claimed Romano was "raping" parliament. Romano joined the cabinet in 2011 year after being part of a group of lawmakers who changed sides to support Berlusconi's government and help it survive after its majority in parliament was slashed by an internal split. He left the centrist Catholic UDC party in September and was part of a self-styled "responsible" group of lawmakers that the opposition claimed accepted a range of inducements to join the ex-premier. Two months later, Berlusconi's cabinet was replaced by Mario Monti's amid a peak in the euro crisis.

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