Judges in papal trial take investigation to Holland, W. Germany
Rome — The Pope plot trial in Rome has recessed to the Netherlands. With no end of the trial in sight, the court continues relentlessly to pursue its interrogations based on information provided by Mehmet Ali Agca.
Mr. Agca is the chief witness in the trial, which is trying to determine whether there was a conspiracy to shoot Pope John Paul II. Agca is serving a life sentence for his 1981 attempt on the Pope's life.
Judges Severino Santiapichi and Antonio Marini have gone to Maastricht in the Netherlands, where they have been questioning Semet Aslan, a Turk in prison on charges of illegal possession of a gun that was said to have come from the same lot of weapons as the gun Agca used to shoot the Pope. But Dutch prosecutors have said there is no proof that the gun came from that lot.
Mr. Arslan was arrested in the Netherlands on May 14 of this year, on the last day of a visit to the Netherlands by the Pope.
The Italian judges hope to go to West Germany to question Yalcin Ozbey, a Turk in prison on drug charges in Bochum. Mr. Ozbey claims that he knew of the preparations of the alleged plot and that he refused to take part in it.
Before returning to Rome, the judges also want to go to Turkey to question Bekir Celenk, a defendant in the case who is being tried in absentia. Mr. Celenk allegedly arranged the meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, at which Agca claims a Soviet agent offered him $1.2 million to shoot the Pope.
Agca has testified that three Turks -- Omer Ay, Oral Celik, and Sedat Sirri Kadem -- were with him in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, when he shot the Pope.
Mr. Ay is in jail in Istanbul on drug charges. Turkish judges will not grant extradition for Ay, but Public Prosecutor Marini hopes to be able at some point to take Agca to Istanbul for a confrontation with Ay.
Since a recess in mid-July, the Rome judges have been busy rounding up testimony from the Turks named by Agca as accomplices. After a visit to Istanbul last month by Marini, the trial reopened for three days last week to question Mr. Kadem.
Kadem, who served a brief prison sentence in Turkey for drug trafficking, came voluntarily to the Rome trial to testify on his relationship with Agca.
Although the two were school friends, their paths diverged politically, Kadem said. He became a left-wing activist and Agca associated with rightists. Kadem described Agca as ``intelligent but not a man who was constitutionally sound mentally.''
Kadem said that he had not seen his childhood friend since 1979, when Agca was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of Abdi Ipekci, an Istanbul newspaper editor.
Agca, on the other hand, claims Kadem helped him escape from prison in Turkey, drove him to the Iranian border, and later became an integral part of preparations laid in Vienna, Milan, and Rome to assassinate the Pope.
This Kadem denied. ``I have never left Turkey,'' Kadem told the court. ``Until now I never had a passport.''
So for now the conspiracy theory still rests mainly on Agca's erratic testimony and the question of Agca's sanity. Agca has often interrupted his court interrogation by presiding Judge Santiapichi with outbursts claiming he is Jesus Christ.
Before the July recess, defense lawyers for Sergei Ivanov Antonov, the only Bulgarian defendant present in Rome, called for a full psychiatric examination of Agca. None was done for this trial.
The trial is scheduled to reopen in Rome on Sept. 15.