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Tuesday, 12 September 2006

psAn apparent admission of his guilt in the 1978 death of a young German tourist has generated another storm for Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy.

In a conversation with his cellmate which was taped by prosecutors in June and published by the Italian press on Sunday, Vittorio Emanuele said: "At the trial, even though I was in the wrong... I have to say I put one over on them"

The 69-year-old prince was referring to a 1991 trial in Paris in which he was acquitted of murder charges in connection with the fatal wounding of Dirk Hamer.

Hamer was accidentally shot twice on August 18, 1978 while he was asleep on the deck of a boat anchored off a south Corsican island.

One of the bullets severed an artery in the 19-year-old's thigh. After four months of agony, during which he underwent 14 operations including a leg amputation, Hamer died .

Sunday papers quoted the prince as saying from his prison cell in the southern city of Potenza that "the prosecutor asked for a five-and-a-half year sentence. But I was sure I would win (the case), more than sure" .

Meanwhile, the sister of the victim  Dirk Hamer told an Italian newspaper on Tuesday that the prince's comments had given her fresh hope in her fight for justice .

Birgit Hamer, 49, told La Repubblica that "the truth has emerged from the mouth of the very man who throughout all these years has tried to hide and deny it. At this point, it doesn't matter what his lawyers say" .

"I don't want revenge - just justice," said Hamer, a former Miss Germany who was invited by Italian friends on the 1978 boat trip and had asked her brother to go with her .

"My lawyer has told me there cannot be another trial but I hope one will now be held in Italy," she said .

She said Vittorio Emanuele, an international jetsetter with influential friends, had pulled strings at his Paris trial, citing former French presidents Valery Giscard d'Estaing and the late Francois Mitterand.

"Lots of very powerful people were protecting him. That's why he was so sure of being acquitted," said Hamer, who has written a book about her brother's death entitled Crime Without Punishment .

"I can still hear Vittorio Emanuele with his rifle in his hand shouting like a madman, 'Italians are shit! I'm going to kill you all!'... If only the Savoys had provided a helicopter, Dirk's life would have been saved," she said .

The prince's spokesman, Filippo Bruno di Tornaforte, said on Monday that the prince was "indignant and amazed" over the comments attributed to him and that "the sense (of his words) was altered during the transcription" .

The prince's son, Emanuele Filiberto, also defended his father, saying that ballistic evidence presented to the French court in 1991 had proved his father's innocence .

"My father was certain of being acquitted because he knew that the shot did not come from him... Nobody knows who shot Hamer but it wasn't with my father's gun," he said .

Emanuele Filiberto also said his father had been taking tranquilisers and other drugs while in prison and that this could explain his comments .

"They are the sort of things one says for a laugh," he was quoted as saying on Tuesday by La Repubblica .

Other supporters of the prince said his words had been taken out of context .

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