Ankara, Turkey - Outrage has greeted plans by Pope John Paul II’s would-be assassin to sign multi-million-dollar book and film deals after his release from prison this month.
But in a handwritten letter sent to The Sunday Times, the Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca insisted this weekend that there was “great interest from Japan to Canada” in film and television documentary projects.
Almost three decades after he shot the Polish Pope in St Peter’s Square, Rome, in 1981, it remains a mystery whether he acted alone or was part of a Soviet-led plot to eliminate a threat to communist rule in eastern Europe.
Agca, 52 yesterday, is due to be released on January 18, according to Haci Ali Ozhan, his lawyer. He has been held in Turkey since 2000 when Italy pardoned and extradited him. He had been convicted of murdering Abdi Ipekci, a Turkish journalist, two years before he shot John Paul but escaped from jail.
Agca, who described himself in his letter as “sane and strong both physically and psychologically”, has reportedly sought $2m (£1.2m) for an exclusive television interview and $5m (£3.1m) for two books, including his autobiography. He has also written to Dan Brown, the author of the bestselling The Da Vinci Code, about a book entitled The Vatican Code, to be followed by a film.
He said in his letter: “My plan is to proclaim the end of the world and to write the PERFECT GOSPEL [sic] ... I will proclaim the Perfect Christianity that Vatican [sic] has never understood.” He did not say whether he would speak about the shooting of John Paul.
Arrested just after the shooting, Agca at first named three Bulgarians as his accomplices, saying he had been paid $1.2m. But at their trial he declared himself Jesus Christ and they were acquitted.
European publishers, several of whom have expressed interest to Agca, said his memoirs could be worth $3m in publishing rights worldwide.
“Agca’s memoirs would be of global interest, but only if he delivers what publishers and readers want: he has to tell the full, true story with many new revelations,” said Francesco Aliberti, a prominent Italian publisher.
Critics denounced the idea that Agca, a former member of the neo-fascist Grey Wolves movement, could profit from his crime.
“It’s morally wrong. Agca is just a bandit, a trained and paid killer who worked for a terrorist intelligence network,” said Paolo Guzzanti, a senator who headed a parliamentary commission that concluded four years ago that Soviet leaders had ordered the GRU military secret service to carry out the shooting.
“Some people think he’s crazy but he isn’t. He was well trained by the Soviets and he did exactly what they wanted him to do. The reason he started saying he was Jesus Christ was because a Bulgarian judge and a KGB agent got to him in Italy and ordered him to deny everything he’d said about Bulgarian involvement or he’d be killed,” Guzzanti said.
Judge Ferdinando Imposimato, one of the Rome prosecutors who has investigated the shooting, said Agca “knows everything about the intelligence services behind the shooting” but offering him money could make the mystery harder to solve.
“It’s horrifying and ridiculous that people could offer him money. It’s offensive to Pope John Paul and it could jeopardise what chances are left of finding out the truth. He could be tempted to say outrageous, untrue things just to get more money,” Imposimato said.
Agca himself has expressed a desire to come to Rome, variously saying he wants to meet Pope Benedict XVI, convert to Christianity at a baptism ceremony on St Peter’s Square and pray on the tomb of John Paul, who forgave him for the shooting at a prison meeting two years later and died in 2005.
Asked in a prison interview with The Sunday Times in 2000 whether he regretted shooting John Paul, Agca said: “I would not do it again. I feel no hatred for the Pope. I feel only torment for what happened.”