Controversial ‘Mr Italy’ Giulio Andreotti dies at 94

Giulio Andreotti was accused, and cleared, of being in the mafia. Picture: AP
Giulio Andreotti was accused, and cleared, of being in the mafia. Picture: AP
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Giulio Andreotti, who was Italian prime minister in seven governments and whose name was synonymous with political survival and cunning in the land that gave the world Machiavelli, has died at the age of 94.

Known for more than half a century as “Mr Italy” because of the many offices he held, he had suffered from respiratory problems for years.

A leading member of the defunct Christian Democrat party which dominated Italian politics for almost 50 years after the Second World War, Andreotti was an MP in every Italian parliament since 1945, and was prime minister in three periods - 1972-73, 1976-79 and 1989-92. He was made a senator for life in 1991.

He was a complex figure who embodied the contradictions and intrigues of Italy's often shady politics. His enemies called him Beelzebub, but he was deeply religious and took communion from popes. He was accused and acquitted both of being a member of the mafia and of ordering the murder of a journalist.

His supporters said he served his country like few others, helping transform Italy from a war-devastated agricultural backwater into a leading industrial power in the space of a generation. But many Italians believed he was the quintessential back-room wheeler-dealer, overseeing a political system riddled with cronyism and corruption.

He held nearly every political post in Italy, short of the presidency. His leadership of seven post-war governments was beaten only by his mentor, Alcide De Gaspari, who led eight.

At the end of a trial and two appeals, Andreotti was cleared in 2004 of charges he had been a member of the mafia and had protected the mob in the corridors of power. However, Italy's highest court said he had ties until 1980 with mafia gangsters, which were covered by the statute of limitations.

He was the subject of more than 20 parliamentary investigations on suspicion of under-the-counter dealings, ranging from corruption to links with shady financiers.

On every occasion he was cleared and the investigations did not dent his power.

“Apart from the Punic Wars, for which I was too young, I have been blamed for everything,” he said in one of his famous quips.