- Cosa Nostra boss imprisoned after 30 years
- Detained in a private hospital in Palermo
- Convicted of his part in killing anti-mafia prosecutors
PALERMO, Italy, Jan. 16 (Reuters) – Italy’s most wanted mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was arrested Monday by armed police at a private hospital in Sicily, where the man who has been on the run since 1993 was being treated for cancer.
Nicknamed “Diabolik” and “‘U Siccu” (The Skinny One), Messina Denaro was sentenced in absentia to life for his role in the 1992 murders of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, crimes that shocked the nation. and led to a crackdown on Cosa Nostra.
Messina Denaro, 60, was led away from Palermo’s “La Maddalena” hospital by two uniformed carabinieri police officers and put into a waiting black minibus. He wore a brown fur-lined jacket, glasses and a brown and white wool cap.
According to legal sources, he was treated for cancer and had surgery last year, followed by a series of appointments under an assumed name.
“We had a lead for the investigation and followed it up to today’s arrest,” Palermo prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia said.
Magistrate Paolo Guido, who also led investigations into Messina Denaro, said dismantling his network of protectors was key to achieving the result after years of work.
A second man who drove Messina Denaro to the hospital was arrested on the spot on suspicion of aiding a fugitive.
Footage posted on social media showed locals applauding and shaking hands with police in balaclavas as the minibus carrying Messina Denaro was driven away from the suburban hospital to an undisclosed location.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has traveled to Sicily to congratulate the police chiefs after the arrest.
“We didn’t win the war, we didn’t beat the mafia, but this battle was a key battle to win and it’s a serious blow to organized crime,” she said.
Maria Falcone, the sister of the murdered judge, echoed that sentiment.
“It proves that mafiosi, despite their delusions of omnipotence, are ultimately doomed to defeat in the conflict with the democratic state,” she said.
FAST CARS, FLASHING CLOTHING
Messina Denaro is from the town of Castelvetrano near Trapani in western Sicily and is the son of a Mafia boss.
Police said last September they could still issue orders regarding the way the mafia was run in the area around Trapani, its regional stronghold.
Before going into hiding, he was known for driving expensive cars and his penchant for wearing fine suits and Rolex watches.
He faces a life sentence for his role in bombings in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people in 1993 and is accused by prosecutors of being solely or partly responsible for numerous other murders in the 1990s.
In 1993, he helped organize the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to dissuade his father from testifying against the Mafia, prosecutors say. The boy was held captive for two years before being strangled and his body dissolved in acid.
The arrest comes nearly 30 years after the police arrest of Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the most powerful boss of the Sicilian mafia of the 20th century. He eventually died in prison in 2017, having never violated his duty of confidentiality.
“It is an extraordinary event, of historical significance,” said Gian Carlo Caselli, who was a prosecutor in Palermo at the time of Riina’s arrest.
Despite the euphoria, Italy still faces a battle to contain organized crime groups whose tentacles stretch far and wide.
Experts say Cosa Nostra has been taken over by the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, as the most powerful organized crime group in Italy.
“There’s a sense that the Sicilian Mafia isn’t as strong as it used to be, especially since the 90s, they really haven’t been able to enter the drug market and so they’re really second fiddle to the ‘Ndrangheta in that regard, said Federico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford.
additional reporting by Angelo Amante and Alvise Armellini, written by Keith Weir and Cristina Carlevaro, editing by Gavin Jones, Nick Macfie, and Alex Richardson
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