Reputed Mobster and Papal Plot Defendant Dies, Autopsy Scheduled
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Bekir Celenk, an absentee defendant in the trial of seven men accused of conspiring to kill the pope, suffering a heart attack in a Turkish military prison and died, the Anatolia news agency reported.
A court in Rome was planning to move to Turkey this month to question the reputed Turkish mobster about the alleged 1981 plot to kill Pope John Paul II.
A dispatch by the semiofficial news agency said Celenk suffered a heart attack Monday afternoon at the Mamak military prison in Ankara and died on the way to Gulhane military hospital.
Celenk, 51, was standing trial in Ankara on charges of arms and drugs smuggling. He faced the death penalty if convicted.
The agency quoted garrison Commander Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Turkgenci as saying Celenk’s body was at the hospital’s morgue and there would be an autopsy today.
Officials at the military hospital refused to provide any information.
Celenk was among four Turks and three Bulgarians accused in Rome of conspiring to kill the pope. The trial was initiated mainly because of testimony by papal assailant Mehmet Ali Agca, who turned state’s evidence.
Agca, also a Turk, is serving a life sentence in Italy for shooting and wounding the Polish-born pontiff in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.
The indictment charged Celenk with offering three million marks ($1.2 million) to Agca and two other Turkish defendants to kill the Pope. Agca has claimed that Celenk was acting as intermediary for a Soviet official in Bulgaria.
Celenk testified in Turkey that he did not know Agca or Omar Celik, another Turk accused of shooting at the pope. Celik’s whereabouts are unknown.
After two years in prison, Agca, who in the first trial had claimed he acted alone, said Celik also fired at the pope.
The three defendants in custody in Rome are Sergei Ivanov Antonov, the former Rome station chief of the Bulgarian state airlines; Omer Bagci, A Turk accused of delivering the pistol Agca used; and Musa Serdar Celebi, a former leader of the Gray Wolves, a right-wing Turkish youth movement often accused of terrorism.
Two other Bulgarian defendants - Todor Aivazov and Lt. Col. Zhelyo Kolev Vassilev - are in Bulgaria and claim diplomatic immunity.
Bulgaria had Celenk under house arrest for nearly three years, but released him in July after saying officials there found no evidence he was involved in the papal attack.
Turkey put him on trial in September on charges of smuggling arms and drugs from Bulgaria but refused to hand him over to Italy, citing the criminal code barring extradition of a national to a foreign country.
He also was indicted by Italian Judge Carlo Palermo last November for alleged involvement in an international arms and drugs smuggling ring.
Celenk complained of a heart condition in court sessions in Ankara.