Mafia boss gives evidence in "Ticinogate" trial

Convicted mafia kingpin Francesco Prudentino (centre) is testifying in the "Ticinogate" trial Keystone

A Ticino court has been hearing evidence from a convicted mafia boss in a high profile corruption trial, in which a former Swiss judge is accused of accepting kickbacks from an Italian cigarette smuggler.

This content was published on June 20, 2001 - 15:58

The court in Lugano heard testimony from Francesco Prudentino, who is currently serving a jail term in Italy for smuggling cigarettes, drugs and weapons. He was brought to Ticino by Italian police to serve as a witness in the trial.

Swiss prosecutors allege that, in 1999, Prudentino paid SFr800,000 ($447,000) in kickbacks to the former president of Ticino's criminal court, Franco Verda.

They say Verda, 60, accepted the money in exchange for releasing funds which had been frozen in Prudentino's Swiss bank accounts. As Ticino's highest criminal judge, Verda ordered that SFr1.6 million be handed back to Prudentino, with the remaining SFr1.3 million being retained by the Swiss authorities.

Prosecutors say that the transaction was arranged through a suspected cigarette smuggler and friend of Prudentino, Gerardo Cuomo, who is also on trial in Lugano for his role in the affair.

Giving evidence on Tuesday, Cuomo said Verda had told him in May 1999 that he would be prepared to release some of Prudentino's money, provided the mafia boss handed over half the sum to Verda.

He said he had later communicated this information to Prudentino: "I told Prudentino on the telephone that he should give half the money to the judge," said Cuomo.

He added that Verda had proposed the deal during a trip to Monte Carlo, when he was a guest on Cuomo's yacht.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Prudentino said he remembered having had a telephone conversation with Cuomo about the frozen funds, but said he had no recollection of Cuomo suggesting that he pay Verda for releasing some of the blocked assets.

When confronted with evidence that he had discussed Verda's proposal with Cuomo on the telephone, Prudentino said he had never taken the suggestion seriously.

A verdict is not expected before the middle of next week.

The case came to light last year when Cuomo, 56, was detained in Zurich in May 2000 after Italy issued an international warrant for his arrest. Verda was also taken into custody, but later released and dismissed from public office.

Italy accused Cuomo of masterminding a Europe-wide cigarette smuggling operation, and demanded his extradition. The Swiss Federal Court approved the request last November.

Cuomo will face criminal charges in the southern Italian city of Bari shortly after the trial in Lugano ends.

swissinfo with agencies

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