A Sicilian appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti is innocent of complicity with the Mafia.

Mr. Italy says he's a victim of a mafia plot

Judge Salvatore Scaduti told the court that the prosecution could not prove its case against the seven-times prime minister, despite the fact that 38 Mafia turncoats testified against him in the first trial in October 1999 when he was acquitted.

Andreotti, a giant of Italian post-war politics and aged 86 is popularly dubbed "Mr Italy". He has always protested his innocence, but Sicilian prosecutors appealed the first ruling and demanded a 10-year prison sentence.

The prosecution based their case heavily on evidence from ex Mafioso Antonino Giuffre, who testified in a makeshift court in a Milan prison bunker in January that Andreotti had protected the mob and had links to Mafia bosses.

The prosecution accused Andreotti and his Christian Democrat party of  favours for the Mafia in Sicily, such as promising that lenient judges would handle their trials, in exchange for votes.

The veteran statesman has said he was a victim of a Mafia plot to punish him for crackdowns on organised crime by governments he headed. His lawyer, Franco Coppi, dismissed Giuffre's testimony as "the same old rubbish".

Leading politicians welcomed the verdict and said justice had been done.

"The verdict speaks for itself," said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is himself embroiled in a corruption trial and has accused Milan's magistrates of leading a politically-motivated smear campaign against him.

"Congratulations to the life-senator and to the vast majority of Italians who know how to distinguish between real and partisan justice," the prime minister added.

Senate president Marcello Pera said: "I am glad to see judicial confirmation our country was not led by a mobster."

Berlusconi: the verdict speaks for itself

Andreotti last held office when he was premier in 1992. He has since been in semi-retirement as a life senator. Andreotti was sentenced to 24 years in prison in a separate trial in the central Italian city of Perugia in November on charges of ordering the mob murder of a muckraking journalist in 1979. He is free while appealing that verdict.

"I had nothing to do with the Mafia. I always fought the Mafia," Andreotti told journalists in Rome after the verdict. "I hope the appeal to the Perugia trial will wipe out my sentence and I hope to see an end to my judicial woes."

Andreotti is extremely unlikely ever to find himself behind
bars because of his age.

Aljazeera