Matteo Messina Denaro, Italian Mafia boss arrested after 30 years on the run

Top Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, centre, leaves an Italian Carabinieri barrack soon after his arrest at a private clinic in Palermo, Sicily, on Jan. 16. (Photo: Carabinieri/AP)

Matteo Messina Denaro, the godfather of the Sicilian Mafia, has been apprehended, bringing to a close one of the longest manhunts in European history.

He was apprehended by the Carabinieri, Italy's paramilitary police, on a visit to a private health centre in Palermo on Monday morning for what the authorities said was cancer.

Mr Messina Denaro, the most wanted man in Italy, has been on the run for thirty years. He has been implicated in hundreds of murders, including the 1992 murders of trial magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two of the most notorious in postwar Italian history. In the late 1980s, their crackdown on the Sicilian Mafia, the Cosa Nostra, ended in the so-called Maxi Trial, which resulted in 475 indictments. Mr Messina Denaro was guilty in absentia in 1993 for his role in their deaths.

Among other gruesome murders, he was convicted of strangling the baby son of a Mafia informant, Giuseppe Di Matteo. His remains were subsequently dissolved in a cauldron of nitric acid.

Messina Denaro was convicted in absentia and given a life sentence in 2002 for his role in the 1993 bombings that murdered ten people in Florence, Rome, and Milan, including the explosion of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which killed five people and destroyed paintings by Giotto and Rubens.

His whereabouts became an obsession for the Sicilian police and state prosecutors, who at times believed they were close to apprehending him, only to have their leads vanish. The leader of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, referred to the arrest as "a great victory for the state."

It is now known that Mr Messina Denaro had been visiting the cancer clinic under a false name for approximately a year before his capture. However, the police may have been tipped off about his disguises.

He attempted to flee, but once encircled by the Carabinieri, he did not resist and revealed his identity. "What is your name?" the police officer inquired. He replied, "My name is Matteo Messina Denaro," according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

Italian media said that the Carabinieri brought him to a secret location shortly after his detention. The 60-year-old wore dark glasses, a white wool cap, and a brown leather jacket on a wet day. He appeared frail.

His claimed offences are many, filthy, and disturbing. "You could fill a cemetery with all the people I've killed," he reportedly said, according to state witnesses.

State prosecutor Teresa Principato has spent the majority of her career pursuing him. During a 2016 interview at her home in Palermo with The Globe and Mail, she claimed that her efforts to catch him and other high-profile members of the Sicilian Mafia significantly impacted her personal life.

In 2014, Sicilian police uncovered a Mafia plot – allegedly led by Mr Messina Denaro – to blow up Ms Principato with dynamite, and she was subsequently placed under 24-hour police protection.

"My life is protected by armour. I am in jail," she stated.

In 2019, it was revealed that a laptop and two pen drives containing information on his likely whereabouts – and, most importantly, his protection network – were taken from her office four years earlier when she led the team of investigators trying to locate the mafia boss.

Messina Denaro began his criminal career as a local boss in the Trapani region of western Sicily. Messina Denaro emerged as the last godfather following the arrests of Cosa Nostra leader Salvatore "The Beast" Riina, who ordered the murders of Mr Falcone and Mr Borsellino, and his successors Bernardo "The Tractor" Provenzano and Salvatore "The Baron" Lo Piccolo in the 1990s.

He was not your average Cosa Nostra gangster. During his years of freedom, he was known as the playboy mobster, a notorious womanizer with a fleet of Porsches, fancy attire, aviator-style sunglasses, and Rolex watches. He frequently traveled outside of Italy, which was rare for a Cosa Nostra leader.

Over the years, he is believed to have gained billions through the typical Mafia rackets of drug trafficking, extortion, and fraudulent governmental contracts. Additionally, he amassed billions through wind farms, garbage initiatives, and the competent management of a major retail chain.

According to testimony for the prosecution, he murdered a rival boss and strangled his pregnant girlfriend.

He left nearly no footprints. He does not utilize computers or mobile devices. He instead left coded messages on small pieces of paper wrapped in cellophane tape on the fields of his associates. The prosecution assumed he underwent cosmetic surgery abroad to alter his appearance. There are almost no photographs of him.

According to one theory, he was sheltered by corrupt politicians, bankers, and police personnel. "How else do you explain that Messina Denaro has been on the run for nearly two decades?" asked Giacomo Di Girolamo, author of The Invisible, a 2010 book about Messina Denaro. He has an extensive network of allies and is constantly on the go.

Prosecutors in Italy, including Ms Principato, employed a scorched-earth strategy to deprive him of his circle of friends and relatives and choke off his source of income. His associated assets were taken. Even his sister Patrizia Messina Denaro was detained in late 2013.

Ms Principato stated, "We've heard he's living like a parasite from other people's money." His whole family is incarcerated, including his sister, cousins, in-laws, and more than 100 other relatives and close friends.

Publish : 2023-01-17 09:57:00

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