A former anti-mafia champion, Antonello Montante, was sentenced to 14 years in jail on Friday for a string of offences including corruption.
Montante, who has always denied the charges against him, was the national spokesman on legal issues for Italy's employers’ organization, Confindustria, as well as the head of its Sicilian branch.
The sentence was tougher than expected as the prosecution had asked for 10 years. It could have been higher still; the jail time was cut by a third because of the type of trial Montante agreed to. Without that, he would have been jailed for 21 years: “Almost like a murder,” complained Giuseppe Panepinto, one of his lawyers, who said an appeal would be launched.
A probe was launched in 2015 after a string of mafia turncoats told prosecutors that, despite his attacks on organized crime, Montante was actually involved with Sicilian mob bosses — in particular Vincenzo Arnone and his father Paolino, who were best men at Montante's wedding in December 1980.
As part of the investigation, prosecutors uncovered what they dubbed "the Montante system" — a complex web of informants whose job it was to provide the former Confindustria man with information on his rivals and on the probe into his alleged mob links.
Prosecutors said they found a haul of documents in January 2016 in a room in Montante's villa at Serradifalco, near Caltanissetta in central Sicily. There were dossiers on politicians, prosecutors, investigators and others full of details collected by his informants. The suspicion is that the dossiers were to be used for blackmail, wrote the daily La Stampa.
The sentence “shows the gravity of the so-called Montante system,” said Nicola Morra, chairman of the Italian parliament's anti-mafia commission. However, Montante's lawyer Panepinto said his client had been set up by the mafia.
It's not the first time an anti-corruption figure has been arrested for such offences. In 2015 Roberto Helg, then head of Palermo’s chamber of commerce and a leading figure in the fight against corruption, was arrested after pocketing €100,000 extorted from a local businessman, although in that case the mafia was not involved.
Prosecutors have long denounced attempts by the mafia to infiltrate anti-corruption efforts in a bid to delegitimize them.