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Pentito (Italian he who has repented, plural pentiti) designates people in Italy who, formerly part of criminal or terrorist organizations, following their arrests decide to "repent" and collaborate with the judicial system to help investigations. The government passed legislation creating the judicial category of the pentiti to fight terrorism in the 1970s, during the "Years of Lead". Their correct technical name in Italian is collaboratori di giustizia (collaborators with justice). In the wake of the Maxi Trial in 1986-87, and after the testimonies of Tommaso Buscetta, the term was more often used for former members of the Sicilian Mafia who have abandoned their organisation and started helping in investigations.


Role and benefits

In exchange for the information they deliver, pentiti receive shorter sentences for their crimes, in some cases even freedom. In the Italian judicial system, pentiti can obtain personal protection, a new name, and some money to start a new life in another place, possibly abroad. This practice is common in other countries as well: in the United States, criminals testifying against their former associates can enter the Witness Protection Program, and be given new identities, with supporting paperwork.


Among the most famous Mafia pentiti is Tommaso Buscetta, the first important pentito. He was helpful to judge Giovanni Falcone in describing the Sicilian Mafia Commission or Cupola, the leadership of the Sicilian Mafia in the 1980s, and identifying the main operational channels that the Mafia used for its business.

In Italy, important successes were achieved with the cooperation of pentiti in the fight against terrorism (especially against the Red Brigades), by Carabinieri general Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa (who was later killed by the Mafia).

In the period until the 1990s, there were very few, albeit significant, pentiti such as Tommaso Buscetta, Salvatore Contorno, Antonino Calderone, etc. However, this changed significantly during the early 1990s. From 1992, over a thousand mafiosi have agreed to collaborate with Italian justice.[1]

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