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Verdict Pleases Few

March 30, 1986

ROME (AP) _ Italian newspapers said Sunday the verdict in the trial of three Bulgarians and three Turks accused of plotting to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981 was a compromise that satisfied no one.

A Roman court on Saturday acquitted all six men on the conspiracy charges, citing lack of evidence.

Under Italian law, acquittal for lack of evidence does not amount to a declaration of innocence. Defense lawyers and the public prosecutor announced they would appeal.

″Neither condemned nor really absolved,″ the conservative Rome daily Il Tempo said. ″That is the real verdict″ on defendants Sergei Antonov, Zhelyo Vassilev, Todor Aivazov, Oral Celik, Omer Bagci and Musar Serdar Celebi.

But the paper said the court could not have judged otherwise: ″It’s not up to a court to judge a country. Neither this one or any other could have gotten right to the bottom of the so-called Bulgarian connection.

″The verdict, which did not satisfy either prosecution or defense, came after 10 months of exhausting and difficult debate in which the behavior of (Mehmet Ali) Agca played a determining role.″

The trial was based largely on the testimony of Agca, who is serving a life sentence in a Roman prison for shooting and seriously wounding the pope on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square.

In pretrial testimony he said the Bulgarian secret service, supported by the Soviet Union, masterminded the attack. But during the trial he often admitted lying and frequently claimed he was Jesus Christ.

″Doubt is the real victor in the pope plot trial,″ said Italy’s largest circulation daily, Corriere della Sera.

″It was expected that this trial would clear up many questions″ including whether an international plot had really existed or if Agca had acted alone, the paper said. ″After five years we are not in a position to know what is really behind the attack.″

The ruling meant the court could not prove the defendants plotted to kill the pope, ″but neither can we say they are completely extraneous to the muddy waters of international intrigue,″ added Corriere della Sera.

Giuseppe Consolo, counsel for Antonov, the only Bulgarian who was held in custody in Italy, described the verdict as ″typically Italian. We are masters of certain types of compromise. This sentence would be unthinkable in any other country.″

Corriere della Sera also reported that in Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, Aivazov and Vassilev expressed displeasure over the verdict, claiming the jury did not want to discover the truth.

Aivazov and Vassilev were both Bulgarian diplomats in Rome and returned to Bulgaria before the trial. They claimed diplomatic immunity.

″It is now clear that the Bulgarian connection did not stand up to the court’s examination″ wrote L’Unita, the Communist Party newspaper.

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano ran three paragraphs giving the verdict in its Easter Sunday edition, without comment.

Corriere della Sera said Vatican sources unofficially let it be known that the Vatican interpreted the verdict as confirmation that a plot to kill the pope had existed.

Antonov and Bagci and Celebi, the two Turks held in an Italian jail for over three years, have now been freed, but may not be able to leave Italy yet. Antonov’s planned departure for Sofia was unexpectedly prevented by what the Italian press called the ″strangeness of our bureaucracy.″

Antonov’s lawyers hope they can convince authorities to expedite the process of determining which office is responsible for authorizing Antonov’s departure so he can return to Bulgaria as soon as possible.

Bagci was convicted Saturday of smuggling a pistol into Italy, but he has been jailed since his arrest longer than his sentence of three years and two months.

Celik has been missing since the shooting. Celenk died in October while imprisoned on another charge in Turkey.

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