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After 30 years, Italy arrests mafia boss Messina Denaro in Sicilian hospital

  • Cosa Nostra boss captured after 30 years
  • Detained in the private hospital of Palermo
  • Convicted for his role in the murder of anti-Mafia prosecutors

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

Nicknamed “Diabolik” and “‘U Siccu” (The Skinny), Messina Denaro had been sentenced in absentia to a life sentence 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 from Palermo’s “La Maddalena” hospital by two uniformed Carabinieri police officers and loaded into a waiting black van. He wore a brown fur-lined jacket, glasses, and a brown and white woolen cap.

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

“We had a clue about the investigation and followed it up to today’s arrest,” Palermo prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia said.

Magistrate Paolo Guido, who was also in charge of investigations into Messina Denaro, said dismantling his network of protectors was essential to achieving the result after years of work.

A second man who had taken Messina Denaro to hospital was arrested at the scene on suspicion of aiding a fugitive.

Footage on social media showed residents cheering and shaking hands with hooded police as the van carrying Messina Denaro was driven from the suburban hospital to an undisclosed location.

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

“We didn’t win the war, we didn’t defeat the mafia but this battle was a key battle to win, and it’s a blow to organized crime,” she said.

Maria Falcone, sister of the slain judge, echoed that sentiment.

A screen grab from video shows Matteo Messina Denaro, the country’s most wanted mafia boss after his arrest, in this photo obtained by Reuters January 16, 2023. Carabinieri/Handout via REUTERS

“It proves that the mafia, despite their illusions of omnipotence, are ultimately doomed in the conflict with the democratic state,” she said.

FAST CARS, FLASH 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 that he was still able to issue orders regarding how the Mafia was run in the vicinity of Trapani, his regional stronghold.

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

He faces a life sentence for his role in the bombings in Florence, Rome and Milan that killed 10 people in 1993 and is accused by prosecutors of being solely or jointly 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 to the day since police arrested Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the Sicilian Mafia’s most powerful boss of the 20th century. He finally died in prison in 2017, having never broken his code of silence.

“It’s an extraordinary event, of historic importance,” said Gian Carlo Caselli, who was a prosecutor in Palermo at the time of Riina’s arrest.

Despite the euphoria, Italy still faces a struggle to contain organized crime groups whose tentacles stretch far and wide.

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

“It feels like the Sicilian Mafia isn’t as strong as it used to be, especially since the 90s they’ve really been unable to get into the drug market and so they’re really secondary to report to the ‘Ndrangheta on this,” said Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford.

additional reporting by Angelo Amante and Alvise Armellini, writing by Keith Weir and Cristina Carlevaro, editing by Gavin Jones, Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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