30 years later, Italy arrested Mafia boss Messina Denaro in a Sicilian hospital

  • The Cosa Nostra boss was arrested after 30 years
  • He was held in a private hospital in Palermo
  • Convicted for his role in the murder of anti-mafia prosecutors

PALERMO, Italy (January 16) (Reuters) – Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most wanted mafia boss, was arrested by armed police at a private hospital in Sicily on Monday, where the fugitive since 1993 had been being treated for cancer. .

Nicknamed “Diabolik” and “U Sico” (The Skinny One), Messina Denaro was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for his role in the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, crimes that shocked the nation and sparked a crackdown on Cosa Nostra.

Messina Denaro, 60, was taken away from the “La Maddalena” hospital in Palermo by two uniformed carabinieri policemen and put into a waiting black minibus. He was wearing a brown fur-lined jacket, spectacles, and a brown and white wool hat.

Judicial sources said he was being treated for cancer and underwent surgery last year, followed by a series of appointments under an assumed name.

“We had evidence from the investigation and we followed that up to today’s arrest,” said Palermo prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia.

Judge Paolo Guido, who was also in charge of the investigations in Messina Denaro, said dismantling his network of protectors was key to reaching a conclusion after years of work.

The second man who drove Messina Denaro to the hospital was arrested at the scene on suspicion of aiding a fugitive.

Pictures on social media showed locals clapping and shaking hands with police wearing masks as the minibus carrying Messina Denaro drove away from a suburban hospital to a secret location.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni traveled to Sicily to congratulate the police chiefs after the arrest.

“We did not win the war, nor did we defeat the mafia, but this battle was a major battle to win, and it is a heavy blow to organized crime,” she said.

Maria Falcone, the sister of the murdered judge, echoed this sentiment.

“It proves that the Mafia, despite their delusions of omnipotence, is ultimately doomed to defeat in the struggle with the democratic state,” she said.

Fast cars, flashy clothes

Messina Denaro comes from the town of Castelvetrano, near Trapani, in western Sicily, and is the son of a mafia boss.

Police said last September he was still able to issue orders regarding the way the mafia was run in the area around Trapani, his regional stronghold.

Before going into hiding, he was known for driving expensive cars and for his taste in finely tailored suits and Rolex watches.

He faces a life sentence for his role in bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people in 1993, and prosecutors accuse him of joint or sole responsibility for several other murders in the 1990s.

In 1993, he helped organize the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an effort to dissuade his father from testifying against the Mafia, prosecutors say. The boy was held in captivity for two years before he was strangled and his body dissolved in acid.

The arrest comes nearly 30 years to the day since the police arrested Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the most powerful Sicilian mafia boss of the 20th century. He eventually died in prison in 2017, after not breaking the rules of silence.

“It is an exceptional event, of historical importance,” said Gian Carlo Caselli, who was a prosecutor in Palermo at the time of Reina’s arrest.

Despite the euphoria, Italy still faces a struggle to rein in organized crime syndicates whose tentacles extend far and wide.

Experts say Cosa Nostra has been usurped by the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, as Italy’s most powerful organized crime group.

“There is a sense that the Sicilian mafia is not as strong as it used to be, especially since the 1990s, they haven’t really been able to enter the drug market, and so they are really secondary to the ‘Ndrangheta in that,” said Federico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford.

Additional reporting by Angelo Amante and Alvise Armellini, Writing by Keith Weir and Christina Carlifaro, Editing by Gavin Jones, Nick McPhee and Alex Richardson

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