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By Marco Carta and Angelo Amante

Italy's top court upholds acquittals in case alleging pact between mafia and state officials

Italy's highest court on Thursday upheld acquittal verdicts in a major mafia trial based on allegations that the state had colluded with Sicilian mobsters after a deadly wave of bombings in the 1990s.

The ruling, which is definitive and cannot be appealed, marks the final chapter of a case that drew widespread attention over the last decade as it involved former high-ranking state officials, police, mob bosses and politicians.

Prosecutors alleged that state representatives had negotiated with the mob following a string of mafia bombs and assassinations, including those of prominent anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Defendants including Marcello Dell'Utri, a close aide to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and three retired Carabinieri police officials were initially convicted in 2018, but an appeals trial overturned the ruling three years later.

The original verdict said Dell'Utri had brokered a deal with the mob to stop the attacks.

After being acquitted in 2021, Dell'Utri - who got a seven-year sentence in a separate mafia-related case in 2014 - called the trial "monstrous".

"I was convinced I hadn't done anything (wrong), I know my job, I know that if I had made a mistake I would have realised it," former Carabinieri official Mario Mori told reporters after the court confirmed his acquittal.

Two mobsters involved in the case, including Leoluca Bagarella, a convicted killer for the Corleone mafia family, were cleared due to the statute of limitations, which came into force after the court downgraded the charges against them.

Prosecutors brought the defendants to trial on suspicion they began talks with the mafia in 1992 after judge Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were assassinated by a bomb placed under a motorway in 1992.

Magistrate Borsellino was killed two months later, and prosecutors believed he had learned of, and opposed, the negotiations.

Cosa Nostra stepped up the pressure in 1993 with unprecedented mainland attacks on cultural and church targets, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Ten people were killed in Milan and Florence.

After 1993, the attacks abruptly stopped.

(Writing by Angelo Amante; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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