Thursday 26 April 2018

Italy suspends helicopter pilot's licence after 'Mafia' funeral

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Vittorio Casamonica next to a horse-drawn carriage in Rome (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Vittorio Casamonica next to a horse-drawn carriage in Rome (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)

Italy's civil aviation authority has suspended the licence of a helicopter pilot who flew low over Rome to drop flower petals during the over-the-top funeral of a purported local crime boss that has outraged city residents.

The funeral on Thursday of Vittorio Casamonica featured a gilded, horse-drawn carriage carrying the coffin and a band playing the theme music from The Godfather outside the Rome church.

Civil aviation authority ENAC said in a statement it was suspending the licence of the pilot as a precaution, given that single-engine helicopters are prohibited from flying over the capital.

ENAC said the helicopter flew below the 1,000ft (330-metre) limit and violated regulations by tossing objects - flower petals - out of its hold without authorisation.

The level of ostentation prompted Italy's interior minister to demand an explanation from city officials - especially after reports that police and Carabinieri patrols accompanied the funeral procession.

A chastened Rome prefect Franco Gabrielli said that such a scene "should never have taken place". In an interview with the Catholic publication Famiglia Cristiana, he blamed a breakdown in communications caused partly by August holiday absences.

The funeral is the latest scandal to rock Rome following a summer of revelations of mafia-linked corruption among politicians and a breakdown in public transport and other services.

"It seemed like being inside a movie set. Ostentatious luxury, horses decorated in black, a carriage with golden decoration that probably not even Queen Elizabeth could afford," resident Walter Grubissa said.

Others said the service itself was sober.

"People inside the church followed the ceremony with care," said Giovanni Segatori, of the San Giovanni Bosco parish.

Police identified Casamonica as a leader of the eponymous clan active in the south west part of the capital but said he was "on the margins" of organised crime and had not emerged as a suspect in recent Mafia investigations.

The priest who celebrated the Mass, meanwhile, defended himself.

The Rev Giancarlo Manieri said he had no idea what was going on outside the church, that he did his job by celebrating a sober funeral of a practising Catholic, and that he received no prohibition from doing so from his superiors.

Asked by Sky TG24 if he would do it all over again, Mr Manieri said: "Probably, yes. I do my job."

"It's not up to me to block a funeral," he said.

Mr Manieri added that as soon as church officials saw the posters praising Casamonica affixed to the church they took them down.

One read: "You conquered Rome, now you'll conquer Paradise." Another featured an outsized image of Casamonica, looking very papal in white with a cross around his neck, superimposed over an image of St Peter's Basilica and the Colosseum with the words King of Rome underneath.

Press Association

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