PALERMO Italy (Reuters) - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is to testify in a historic trial in which state officials are accused of holding secret talks with the mafia in the early 1990s, a Palermo judge said on Thursday.
The unusual involvement of the head of state in a criminal trial comes as prosecutors seek to shed light on mafia bombings two decades ago which killed leading magistrates and others.
The court "decided that the testimony (of the president) is neither superfluous nor irrelevant", said Judge Alfredo Montalto, presiding over the case.
Prosecutors have indicated they want to talk to the president about conversations one of the accused had with one of Napolitano's former advisers. At the time of the bombings Napolitano held a different post -- president of Italy's Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament.
The 89-year-old, who resisted giving evidence when prosecutors made an initial request in October, issued a statement on Thursday saying he would have "no difficulty in giving his testimony very soon".
He will deliver it in Rome, the court said, without giving a date.
Prosecutors allege that senior politicians and police officials held talks with the Sicilian Mafia after anti-mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were assassinated by a mafia bomb planted under a road in 1992.
Nicola Mancino, interior minister during the period of the alleged negotiations, is being tried for giving false testimony, while another nine defendants, including three former senior paramilitary Carabiniere officers, face charges they sought to blackmail the state. All deny wrongdoing.
Napolitano was linked to the case when prosecutors tapped Mancino's phone and recorded four calls he made to the president. In portions of the wiretaps published by newspapers, Mancino complained about the prosecutors and appeared to be asking the president for help.
Italian media reported last year that the recordings had been destroyed, as had been ordered by the constitutional court.
But prosecutors have said they want to question the president about Mancino's conversations with former presidential legal adviser Loris D'Ambrosio, who has since died, and not about his own conversations with the former minister.
(Reporting by Wladimir Pantaleone; writing by Steve Scherer; editing by Andrew Roche)