Italian anti-mafia police arrested the godfather of Sicily Matteo Messina Denaro on Monday, ending a 30-year hunt for Italy’s most wanted fugitive.
A ruthless agent who once boasted that he could “fill a graveyard” with his victims, 60-year-old Messina Denaro was a leading figure in Cosa Nostra, the real-life Sicilian crime syndicate portrayed in The Godfather films.
Pascual Angelosanto, the commander of special operations, said in a police statement that the gangster was arrested “inside a health facility in Palermo, where he went for treatment.”
The Italian news agency ANSA said he was periodically undergoing colon cancer treatment under an assumed name and did not resist arrest.
Anna Sergi, an expert in criminology at the University of Essex, said that Messina Denaro was “the last, loosest, and ‘purest’ remaining of the Sicilian mafia”.
“The secrets said to keep fuel intrigues about mafia and state pacts in the 1990s,” she told AFP.
“He is the core of the great historical power of Cosa Nostra. The legends about his period on the run are part of the reason why the Mafia legend persists.”
– ‘Very dangerous’ –
The Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, said that Messina Denaro was the “most important” mafia boss and that his arrest in his native Sicily was a “great victory” for the state in its fight against organized crime.
Police photos showed him being escorted to a car that was waiting for him, wearing a cream cap, sunglasses and a brown leather jacket with cream sheepskin lining.
Prior to that, his only known photograph is from the early 1990s. He has been on the run since 1993.
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The American News Agency (ANSA) reported that his first words to the police were “I am Mateo Messina Denaro”.
Locals were seen cheering and clapping in the rain as he was led away.
Messina Denaro was arrested a day after the 30th anniversary of the arrest of Reina Salvatore “The Beast”, the boss of Cosa Nostra who died in 2017.
He was the first man on Italy’s most wanted list, accused of mafia affiliation, multiple murders and use of explosives.
– dissolved in acid –
Messina Denaro was found guilty in absentia of being behind the 1993 bombings in Rome, Milan and Florence that killed 10 people, just months after Cosa Nostra murdered anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in similar attacks.
He was also convicted of killing a teenager by strangulation and dissolution in acid after his father became a state witness.
Interior Minister Matteo Biantidossi said the arrest of a “very dangerous fugitive” was an “extraordinary day for the state”.
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In 2015, police discovered that Messina Denaro had been communicating with his closest aides via the Pezzini system, as small folded banknotes were left under a rock on a farm in Sicily.
Investigators have spent decades searching the homes and businesses of known allies of the president on the island.
They especially looked for hiding places in caves, caves, or even hiding places inside buildings where the man nicknamed “Diabolik” could be hidden.
Federico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, said the fact that Sicilian gang families are weaker these days than their counterparts in Calabria or Campania may have helped in the capture of Messina Denaro.
He said it was “surprising that he was still in Palermo”.
“But it makes sense. If you want to continue to wield some amount of power, you have to be in the area.