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Former Socialist Premier Craxi Convicted in Bank Fraud Case

July 29, 1994 GMT

MILAN, Italy (AP) _ Former Socialist Premier Bettino Craxi was found guilty today of fraud and sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison. He is the highest-ranked figure convicted in two years of corruption probes that brought down Italy’s political establishment.

Craxi was one of more than 3,000 politicians and businessmen implicated in a series of kickback scandals involving Italy’s closely linked business and political communities.

Other former prime ministers, including Giulio Andreotti, seven-time premier from the Christian Democrat Party, have been implicated in the scandals. Craxi’s conviction seemed to confirm that Italy’s tradition of protecting its elite classes is drawing to an end.

Craxi fled to his Tunisian villa months ago after the corruption charges were filed, and was tried by a Milan court in absentia. He ignored judicial orders to return to Italy and claimed he was too ill from diabetes to return to stand trial.

The Italian news agency AGI quoted him calling his sentence ″preordained,″ and saying ″I’m not protesting the injustice because this affair had nothing to do with justice.″

Craxi has insisted that this case and dozens of other corruption probes are motivated by political vendettas.

Also convicted and sentenced today to 8 1/2 years in prison was Craxi’s former protege, former Justice Minister Claudio Martelli, AGI reported.

Craxi was charged with complicity in fraudulent bankruptcy after prosecutors investigating the 1982 collapse of Banco Ambrosiano discovered a payment from the bank to a Socialist Party fund containing millions of dollars in kickbacks.

The defendants were accused of getting a total of $7 million dollars in payoffs from bank president Roberto Calvi. Nicknamed ″God’s banker″ for his close ties with the Vatican, Calvi was found hanging under a London bridge in 1982.

The bank, one of Italy’s largest, collapsed as a result of fraudulent bankruptcy in Italy’s biggest postwar banking scandal.

In recent weeks, Craxi called the indictment a farce, claiming that the payment was known for years and was covered under one of Italy’s periodic amnesties for crimes.