Thirty years ago Contrada was arrested: “That day I died inside”

Interview with the former head of Sisde, the Court of Human Rights has condemned Italy for handcuffing

(by Elvira Terranova) “I’m almost 92 years old and I don’t think I still have much left to live, but I don’t wait for death with fear or fear. And do you know why? Because I’m already dead inside, that morning of December 24, 1992 When a dozen men from the Dia came to arrest me at my house, in front of my wife Adriana and my policeman son”. Bruno Contrada struggles to speak. Seated on the green velvet sofa, he goes back with his memory of that Christmas Eve 30 years ago. When the then senior executive of SISDE was arrested on charges of external competition in mafia association. “Yes, 30 years ago. That day, in addition to taking away my freedom, they also took my dignity, as a man of the state. As an official who served Italy loyally…”, he says in an exclusive interview with Adnkronos . A very long and tortuous, as well as fluctuating, judicial story which ended with the sentence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, according to which Contrada should not have been tried or convicted because, at the time of the alleged facts, the the crime of complicity in a mafia association was not “clear or foreseeable”.

In the first instance Bruno Contrada, on the eve of Easter 1996, was sentenced to ten years in prison, but the sentence was overturned on appeal and the former 007 was acquitted. Then, the twist in the Court of Cassation. The ermine-wearing judges annulled the acquittal with postponement and the trial returned to the Palermo Court of Appeal which, on February 25, 2006, confirmed the ten-year sentence in the first instance. The sentence became final in 2007 and Bruno Contrada, who had been subjected to a long precautionary custody in prison, returned first to his cell and then to house arrest for recognized health reasons.

On 7 July 2017 the decision of the Court of Cassation according to which the sentence is “unenforceable and unproductive of criminal effects”. “30 years have passed – says Contrada in a faint voice – after the decision of the European Court of Justice and the Cassation everything has been given back to me from a judicial, administrative and bureaucratic point of view. But I have not been given back eight years of deprivation of my freedom, the destruction of my career, the humiliation and devastation of my family, as well as the many humiliations suffered. The moral wounds received, incurable and unforgettable”. Contrada stops. He looks into space. And after a few minutes of silence, he adds: “You know, I have never felt the feeling of hatred and I don’t even now feel it, towards anyone. Not even towards those who knowingly and perfidiously struck me. I know, however, and it still remains in me the feeling of contempt, especially for the men of the institutions who in my human and judicial affair, have not fulfilled their duty…”.

‘That morning, dozens of men from the Dia came to rummage in my house’

But what happened that morning of December 24th 30 years ago? “It was the beginning of the end – says Bruno Contrada – They started banging on the door shouting ‘Open up, Police!’. It was just after seven in the morning and dozens of men from the Dia showed up at my door, some in uniform and others in civilian clothes. They began to rummage everywhere, they even seized the service pistol of my policeman son, who was at home. I still wonder why… In the same moments they also kicked down the door of my sister who lived in Rome. This is the scene. I was trying to understand what was happening. In those moments I died. And I can assure you that civil, moral death is perhaps even worse than the physical death of a human being. Physical wounds can heal but those morals are incurable”. Then, Contrada recalls that in the precautionary custody order signed by the then investigating judge Sergio La Commare “it was written that they would have to transfer me to the military prison in Palermo, a pity it was closed… So they took me in a Falcon of the Secret Services at the military prison of Forte Boccea in Rome. There I remained for two years, seven months and 7 days, until the opening of the trial – he says remembering all the dates perfectly – When the trial began I was transferred to the military prison in Palermo which was reopened just for me. I was in total solitude”. And speaking of the investigating judge, he also underlines that “that investigating judge made a copy and paste with the request for arrest, in 24 hours. Including spelling errors …”.

How did Bruno Contrada spend his time in prison? “I read all the procedural documents – he replies – folder after folder, procedural papers. But I also read many books, especially history books and political essays”. Who stayed close to him? “I can’t say that my colleagues abandoned me – he says – some have really been very close to me with letters in which they told me they had full confidence in me. Others have lost track, either out of indifference or out of fear of being ‘ involved’ or accused of I don’t know what…”. “But I was not disappointed – he adds – I believe that I did not lack knowledge of human nature”. At that moment, his cell phone rings. It is a former colleague, a now retired Quaestor, who asks him how he is. Contrada then picks up the thread and also recalls that in the two-year trial (“which lasted longer than the maxi-trial with almost 500 defendants”) 250 witnesses were heard, including 141 men from the institutions including 5 police chiefs, therefore directors of Sisde , 4 high anti-mafia commissioners and about twenty prefects, as well as about thirty quaestors, officers of the Carabinieri or the Guardia di Finanza. “They were cited by me not just in my defense but in defense of the truth…,” he says. But he didn’t help avoid a 10-year sentence in the first instance. Then the appeal. With absolution.

“And despite the favorable opinion of the Pg of the Cassation for the confirmation of the sentence – he recalls – the judges canceled the sentence and postponed the trial to another section of the Court of Appeal”. Which confirmed the ten-year sentence. She reaffirmed by the Cassation on May 10, 2007. The next day she Contrada showed up at the military prison of Santa Maria Capua in Vetere where she remained until July 25, 2008. Then she went to house arrest for health reasons until 2012.

In 2014 the first conviction by the European Court of Human Rights

Meanwhile Contrada turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. With the legal advice of the professor of Criminal Law of the University of Naples, Andreana Esposito. And in 2014 came the first sentence which condemned Italy for violating article 3 of the European Convention “for having subjected me – says the former head of Sisde – to an ‘inhuman and degrading’ penalty as stated in the sentence”. In 2015 the ECtHR sentence arrived which condemned Italy for the violation of article 7 of the EU Convention. Because Contrada was arrested and tried and convicted “for a crime that did not exist in the Italian penal code at the time in which I would have committed the alleged crimes”. The two sentences were implemented by the Cassation which declared the sentences “unenforceable and unproductive of criminal effects”. “I was given back my severance pay, the pension adjustment, and all the rest. But what was taken away from me humanely will never be returned to me again…”.

“I take this opportunity at the end of the thirtieth anniversary of my human and judicial affair to address a sincere and grateful thanks to the lawyers who have lent their precious professional activity, in my favor – he says – The lawyer Pietro Milio, unfortunately passed away prematurely, l Gioacchino Sbacchi, the lawyer Giuseppe Lipera, and the lawyer Stefano Giordano, who assisted me in the various phases of the trial”.

Then, he is keen to underline that during the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, when “I read that wording ‘Contrada against Italy'” my blood boiled. My thought that I might appear to be acting against my homeland kept me from sleeping at night. I, a man of the state. So proud to have worn the uniform”. And he recalls when the mafia repentant Francesco Marino Mannoia changed his version, stating at first that he did not know him and then, instead, accusing him. Mannoia had been heard twice in the United States, in the April 1993, by the pool of magistrates of the Palermo Public Prosecutor’s Office and those of Caltanissetta. Subject: the murder of Lima and the massacres of judges Falcone and Borsellino. During the hearings, he was asked by the investigators if he knew anything about Contrada And he claimed to know only that Bruno Contrada was a high-ranking police officer who worked in Palermo.

When the repentant Marino Mannoia changed his version

Subsequently, in the second report, he said that he did not know that Contrada had relations with the Cosa Nostra. Mannoia, therefore, in the early years, until January 1994, had not uttered any accusatory word against Contrada, he had spoken of it only in general terms of knowledge of a high-ranking official who worked in Palermo. Then, in January 1994, he announced accusations against Contrada, which were not new accusations, but were confirmations of the accusations of previous pentiti, namely Mutolo and Buscetta. “As it happens, all this happened shortly before the protection program was approved…”, says Bruno Contrada today. “Why did he change his version, stating before that he had never heard anything about me and after a year he changed his version?…”.

A legal case which, however, is not over yet. Next week, December 15, the new decision of the Palermo Court of Appeal on compensation for the unjust detention suffered by Contrada is expected. On June 25, the Court of Cassation, accepting the appeal of the lawyer Stefano Giordano, annulled with postponement the order with which the Court of Appeal of Palermo had rejected the request for compensation for unjust detention formulated in the interest of Bruno Contrada “for the sentence suffered as a result of the sentence declared unenforceable and unproductive of criminal effects by the Cassation of 2017”. In January 2021, the Cassation canceled with postponement the compensation order of the Palermo Court of Appeal which had awarded the ex 007 compensation for unjust detention, quantifying it at 667,000 euros. Then passing the ball back to the Palermo judges.

After the no of the appeal judges, therefore, next Thursday the question will be addressed again by the appeal judges, who will have to re-evaluate the appeal presented by the lawyer Giordano. After the first rejection, the lawyer had challenged the violation “twice of the judgment of the European Court, on which the internal judge has no margin of discretion as regards its execution”. Meanwhile, Bruno Contrada, continues to wait.